Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell seeks interment in Oakland Cemetery

By David Pendered

Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell, now president of the Buckhead Coalition, is making arrangements to be interred in Historic Oakland Cemetery. The proposal is to get its first public discussion at Tuesday’s meeting of the Atlanta City Council’s Community Development Committee.

sam massell, portrait

Sam Massell posed for this portrait that accompanied a profile of his role in Atlanta that appeared in Georgia State University Magazine. Credit: magazine.gsu.edu

The current plan is for Atlanta to sell 11 grave spaces to The Historic Oakland Foundation, Inc. for use by the Massell family. The graves are numbers 1 through 11, in lot 515, section 9, according to the pending legislation.

The city owns the cemetery. The foundation is a non-profit organization that supports the cemetery.

The price of the 11 grave sites is $10, according to the pending legislation that aims to authorize the interment. The legislation does not appear to cite a source of funds.

State law authorizes the governing body of any city to sell lots from any municipal cemetery, “in the open market without advertisement and without bids,” according to the legislation. The Official Code of Georgia Annotated states:

  • “The governing authority of any municipal corporation is authorized to sell personal property belonging to the municipal corporation which has an estimated value of $500.00 or less and lots from any municipal cemetery, regardless of value, without regard to subsection (a) of this Code section. Such sales may be made in the open market without advertisement and without the acceptance of bids. The estimation of the value of any such personal property to be sold shall be in the sole and absolute discretion of the governing authorities of the municipal corporation or their designated agent.”
sam massell, with jackson, allen

In this 1975 photo, former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell (left) chats with former Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr., then-Mayor Maynard Jackson, and Boisfeuillet Jones, at Jones’ retirement party as chairman of Economic Opportunity Atlanta. Credit: gaweeklypost.com

The proposal emanated from the Department of Parks and Recreation, which has purview over the cemetery. The review of the proposal was completed within 25 minutes on April 28, first by the finance department; then by parks Commissioner Amy Phuong; then by Susan Garrett, senior assistant city attorney; and finally by the mayor’s office, according to the bill’s pedigree.

The Atlanta City Council is expected to act on the proposal at its May 15 meeting, according to the legislation. The pertinent parts of the bill state:

  • “WHEREAS, the City of Atlanta (“City”) owns the Historic Oakland Cemetery (‘Cemetery), a final resting place for many notable Atlanta citizens; and
  • WHEREAS, former Mayor Sam Massell is a notable Atlanta citizen who desires to be buried at the Cemetery….

Massell, 89, has been a fixture in Atlanta’s public arena since 1961, when he was elected to Atlanta’s Board of Aldermen, a precursor of the Atlanta City Council, according to an oral history project on buckheadheritage.com.

sam massell

A youthful Sam Massell. Credit: georgiaencyclopedia.org

Massell was elected mayor in 1969, defeating Rodney Cook, a candidate who was backed by then Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr. and the city’s traditional white business elite, according to a report by Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. Cook now is the honorary namesake of the Rodney Cook, Sr. Park, now being built in the historic Vine City neighborhood near Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Cook died in 2013, according to his family-placed obituary and death notice (in two parts).

Maynard Jackson was elected the city’s first black vice major in the 1969 election. Jackson defeated Massell in the 1973 mayoral election.

According to the biography on buckheadheritage.com:

  • “Sam Massell was born on August 26, 1927, in Atlanta. After completing local public schools, Mr. Massell attended the University of Georgia, Emory University, and Atlanta Law School. He served twenty-two years in elected offices, including eight as President of Atlanta’s Board of Alderman and four as the city’s mayor from 1970 to 1974.  As mayor, Mr. Massell is credited with establishing MARTA and pioneering minority opportunities in city government. He subsequently ran a tourism business in Buckhead and in 1988 he became the founding President of the Buckhead Coaliton, an organization he continues to helm. He currently serves on the Boards of both the Atlanta Historical Society and the Buckhead Heritage Society.”

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

1 reply
  1. Epoxy Decks says:

    Interment Real Estate can be a big deal.
    I get the appeal of special burial. Maybe if I am an artists or a big public figure. As far as I’m concerned, It’s just burial. No class distinction should be considered when it comes to death.

    Thanks for sharing
    NateReport

    Reply

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