Spirituals were sung, tributes given and a proclamation read as a large crowd gathered at a Gainesville cemetery Sunday to dedicate a memorial garden where more than 1,100 African-Americans are buried in unmarked graves.
“It was very poignant, touching to learn more of black history,” said Diane Hutchens of Gainesville, as she walked among the graves at city-owned Alta Vista Cemetery after the ceremony.
The event’s highlight was the unveiling of a 7-foot-tall black granite monument between sections 16 and 17.
“This memorial stands as our testament that these citizens are important to this community and we embrace them as our own,” the monument inscription reads.
“This garden is a very special project, undertaken to bring dignity and honor (to those buried in the cemetery),” Gainesville City Councilwoman Barbara Brooks said. “They were buried during a time when it was customary for African-Americans to be buried in the back of municipal cemeteries in the South.
“We’re not looking back, but we’re looking forward. And I am very proud of my city. … Today, all of us can be proud of the final resting place for these — our people.”
Brooks, who spearheaded the project, helped Mayor Danny Dunagan unveil the monument, after Dunagan read a proclamation.
“We may never be able to document the lives of those buried in these sections, but we can honor them and dignify their final resting place with positive actions that benefit the community as a whole,” Dunagan said from the proclamation.
“We can’t go back and relive the past,” said the Rev. Adrian Niles, a local pastor who officiated the ceremony. “But you can correct the future. You can move forward, you can do justly, you can walk humbly with thy God.”
The garden will “stand as a memorial to the human spirit,” he added.
Six black granite benches surrounding the monument. They are inscribed in gold with the name of the sponsoring organization that purchased them — the Gainesville-Hall County Black History Society, the Fair Street Butler Alumni Association, Grace Episcopal Church, the Greater Northwestern Baptist Association, Gainesville Friends of the Park and Greenway, and Brooks’ husband, James.
Brooks — the lone African-American and minority on the City Council — has said her husband “got (a bench) for his grandmother and great-grandmother, who are buried out there.
“He doesn’t know where they are. They both died before he was born or shortly thereafter. He never met them. He knows they’re out there, so he got one for them.”
Brooks deflects credit to others on the dedication committee for making the project a reality.
She said she and Councilman George Wangemann sat on the committee, heard what others
wanted to do and reported back to city council.
“The committee did the work, we just connected what they wanted to the council,” Brooks has said. “There needed to be representation from the community who have a stake in that cemetery. It would have been fitting for them to have driven this project, and they did.”