The Oak Ridge Cemetery Project
The past is our history, the future is our legacy, the present is our responsibility.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
"There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them. But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten."
The works of those resting in death at Oak Ridge Cemetery are some of the greatest contributions made to the City of Macon, Georgia. There you will find nurses of the influential early politicians, bricklayers of Macon's historic structures, stories of tragic, untimely death, and love that endured in spite of the laws of the time.
Those people deserve recognition. Their stories deserve preservation.
This project will achieve both, and will serve as an information source for future generations.
ABOUT THE CEMETERY
A NEGLECTED HISTORY
The rural cemetery movement in the early 19th century was the driving force for the City of Macon to establish a new cemetery on the banks of the Ocmulgee River. In 1840, the members of the Macon City Council passed an ordinance to establish Rose Hill Cemetery, which was designed by its namesake, Simri Rose.
Socioeconomic factors at that time required cemeteries to be racially segregated. Many affluent white families cared deeply for those who served them, and wished for them to be buried near their own family lots. Oak Ridge Cemetery was the answer to that dichotomy.
Rose Hill Cemetery Facing Oak Ridge Cemetery, Macon, Georgia | Source Unknown
Sparse Markers in Oak Ridge Cemetery, Macon, Georgia by Jessi Dominy
Located within the north west boundary of Rose Hill Cemetery, Oak Ridge Cemetery is the final resting place of many of Macon's earliest African American citizens and their decendants. In many aspects, it is a cemetery within a cemetery.
The modest graves of those such as Mary Zeigler, and Adeline Hall are just a short walk from the extravagant burial sites of Joseph Bond, William Johnston, William Zeigler, and General Edward Dorr Tracy.
In 1973, Rose Hill Cemetery, including Oak Ridge, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Burials were performed in Oak Ridge Cemetery as early as 1840, but Oak Ridge Cemetery was not organized and formally established until 1851. Some historical records suggest that the boundary of Oak Ridge Cemetery was located much further south east than where it lies today.
Within its boundaries are buried some who were enslaved, some who experienced their first taste of freedom with the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln, some who labored in indentured servitude for the opportunity to live in America, some who were lynched and murdered in the Red Summer of 1919, and some who dedicated their lives to caring for the children of influential families in early Macon.
Excerpt from Wheeler's 1890 Survey Map, Oak Ridge Cemetery
Excerpt from Record of Oak Ridge Cemetery | Source: Washington Memorial Library, Department of Archives and History
Records for this part of the Cemetery were not as well kept as we would hope, but the sparse historic records do provide valuable information. There were 918 burials recorded in the antebellum period from 1840 to 1865. Most of these burial records do not list the name of the interred. After the Civil War, many impoverished immigrants and free African-Americans were buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery. In the 1890's, a potter's field called "Strangers Row" was designated for paupers, and hundreds of people were buried in that relatively small area.
Many of the burials that were marked at that time, were marked with wooden fixtures such as crosses, which weathered and were lost to time. Many more of the burials are believed to have been marked with field stones or personal belongings of the deceased, which could have been relocated over time by individuals unfamiliar with historic African American burial grounds. Dozens of burial markers existing today are a simple brick overlay, with no name identifying who rests there. None of the graves of those interred in Strangers Row are marked. Physical inspection of the cemetery performed in 2022 identified only 243 markers with names or initials.
Stock Photo | Unknown Cemetery
Damaged Markers In Rose Hill Cemetery | The Macon News | May 1, 1967
The issues are manifold, but understanding the economic, political, and social causes in their appropriate context can provide us with the direction and insight needed to restore the Cemetery, and preserve its rich history for current and future generations.
To date, there is no complete record of interments for Oak Ridge Cemetery, and information about those resting there is not readily accessible. The Cemetery has sustained floods, tornados, vandalism, and neglect. Past attempts to shine light on this part of Macon's history have not been successful, and the Cemetery has deteriorated over time.
Markers Repurposed For Stairs | Photo by Jessi Dominy
The stories of those buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery have not received adequate attention, and understanding the importance of their stories and their life's contributions is vital to understanding Macon's early prosperity, and vital to the progress of Macon's social inclusion.