Tour of mayors’ graves in Oakland Cemetery a solemn reminder before election day

By David Pendered

The Greek leader Pericles said something about legacy that is worth recollecting in the final weekend of the campaign in Atlanta’s general election. Oakland Cemetery is putting in its 2 cents, as well.

Oakland Walking Path

Two tours of graves of Atlanta’s past mayors who are interred at Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery is scheduled for Sunday. File/Credit: HOF

Pericles is widely credited with observing:

  • “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

The Oakland Historic Foundation is hosting an event Sunday in the cemetery where 27 mayors are interred. The foundation didn’t indicate it finds anything noteworthy about a program that helps wind up an election cycle with a clear reminder of the fate of aspiring candidates and voters, alike.

Here’s the totality of the invitation to the event:

  • “Oakland Cemetery is the final resting place for 27 former mayors of Atlanta. In anticipation of the city’s mayoral election this November, Historic Oakland Foundation will look back and recognize several civic leaders who shaped the history of Atlanta through their policies, controversies, and political decisions. Join us as we explore Atlanta’s political past and prepare to vote for Atlanta’s future.”

Consider the history of just two mayors. Their names outlast the grave and are inscribed in the itinerary of every airline passenger who travels to, or transits through, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Here are introductions of Hartsfield and Jackson as presented in the New Georgia Encyclopedia:

William B. Hartsfield (1890-1971)

  • William B. Hartsfield

    William B. Hartsfield

    “William B. Hartsfield was a man of humble origins who became one of the greatest mayors of Atlanta. He served as mayor for six terms (1937-41, 1942-61), longer than any other person in the city’s history.

  • “Hartsfield held office during a critical period when the color line separating the races began to change and the city grew from more than 100,000 inhabitants to a metropolitan population of one million.
  • “He is credited with developing Atlanta into the aviation powerhouse that it is today and with building its image as ‘the City Too Busy to Hate.’”

Maynard Jackson (1938-2003)

  • “Elected mayor of Atlantain 1973, Maynard Jackson was the first African American to serve as mayor of a major southern city. Jackson served eight years and then returned for a third term in 1990, following the mayorship of Andrew Young.
  • “As a result of affirmative action programs instituted by Jackson in his first two terms, the portion of city business going to minority firms rose dramatically. A lawyerin the securities field, Jackson remained a highly influential force in city politics after leaving elected office.
  • Maynard Jackson

    Maynard Jackson

    “Before and during his third term, he worked closely with Young, Atlanta Olympics organizing committee chair Billy Payne, and others to bring the 1996 Olympic Games to Atlanta.”

The Olympics predate Pericles by nearly 300 years. The Olympics date to 776 B.C. and Pericles was born in 495 B.C. Both continue to have profound effects on global culture.

Pericle’s remains widely known for his Funeral Oration, as recorded by Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War. Remarks from the opening and closing portions of the speech are worth consideration during the tours of Oakland:

  • “Mankind are tolerant of the praises of others so long as each hearer thinks that he can do as well or nearly as well himself, but, when the speaker rises above him, jealousy is aroused and he begins to be incredulous. However, since our ancestors have set the seal of their approval upon the practice, I must obey, and to the utmost of my power shall endeavor to satisfy the wishes and beliefs of all who hear me….
  • “To you who are the sons and brothers of the departed, I see that the struggle to emulate them will be an arduous one. For all men praise the dead, and, however preeminent your virtue may be, I do not say even to approach them, and avoid living their rivals and detractors, but when a man is out of the way, the honor and goodwill which he receives is unalloyed. And, if I am to speak of womanly virtues to those of you who will henceforth be widows, let me sum them up in one short admonition: To a woman not to show more weakness than is natural to her sex is a great glory, and not to be talked about for good or for evil among men.”

Pericles was a Greek statesman and general who commanded wide respect during the country’s Golden Age. His remarks on legacy, delivered in his Funeral Oration, remain some of the most quoted comments in history. Credit:

Atlanta mayors interred at Oakland Cemetery

Mayor Terms
Moses Formwalt1848
Benjamin Franklin Bomar1849
Jonathan Norcross1851
John F. Mims1853
William Markham1853
John Glen1855
William Ezzard1856-1857/1860/1870
Jared Irwin Whitaker1861
Thomas F. Lowe1861
James Montgomery Calhoun1862-1865
James Etheldred Williams1866-1868
William Henry Hulsey1869
Samuel Bacon Spencer1874
Nedom Angier1877-1878
William Lowndes Calhoun1879-1880
James Warren English1881-1882
George Hillyer1885-1886
John Tyler Cooper1887-1888
John Thomas Glen1889-1890
William A. Hemphill1891-1892
Porter King1895-1896
Charles Augustus Collier1897-1898
James G. Woodward1899-1900/1905-1906/1913-1916
Robert Foster Maddox1909-1910
Ivan Allen Jr.1962-1970
Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr.1974-1982/ 1990-1994
Willis Buell1850unmarked grave

Credit: Oakland Cemetery


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.

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