Brooklyn Cemetery


Self-taught African American metalwork artist Harold Rittenberry created the panels on the gates of Brooklyn Cemetery. Birds in flight are one of his favorite symbols, and he views them as messengers traveling between earth and the spiritual world. Rittenberry was born where the Athens Regional Library now stands and played in the cemetery as a child. Photo credit: Rinne Allen.

Sunday, October 14 at 2pm

Hidden in the woods behind the intersection of Westlake Drive and Baxter Street and concealed by vines and brambles is a portal to another time. The historic Brooklyn Cemetery (originally known as the Bethlehem Cemetery) was established by the Bethlehem Cemetery Society in 1882. It is the final resting place for many African Americans in Athens and surrounding communities, although the majority lived in the Brooklyn/Hawthorne area. The people buried here were tradespeople, farmers, preachers, teachers, and service industry professionals as well as a large number of infants and children. The earliest year of death is 1880 and the most recent year of death is 1997, with the highest period of use in the 1920s and 30s. Nature and time have laid claim to much of the cemetery; some tombstones have fallen and are covered with ivy; other graves are completely unmarked. The restoration of the cemetery began in 2006 when Brooklyn area native Linda Davis and former Clarke Middle School teacher Karl Scott founded the Friends of Brooklyn Cemetery. The organization’s goal is to restore, rebuild, and commemorate not only the cemetery grounds but, more importantly, the individuals laid to rest there. With the help of volunteers from the Athens community and relatives of those buried in the cemetery, the difficult job of removing debris and marking graves is underway, although there is much work to be accomplished. This tour will last approximately 2 hours.

 

Tour guides:

Linda Davis is a native of Athens, Georgia and grew up in the Brooklyn neighborhood on the city’s west side. Her career took her to the Atlanta area where she earned her bachelor’s degree in business and an MBA. After a 38-year career with AT&T, Davis returned to Athens, where she has immersed herself in civic engagement. She is the District 3 representative on the Clarke Country Board of Education, serves as the board’s vice president and is a longtime mentor. Davis served on the Envision Athens Steering Committee and is currently on its Implementation Oversight Committee. Davis is also an organizer and coach for her church’s youth team competing in the Annual Athens Area Black History Bowl for their sixth year. Davis received the 2017 Fosky Henderson Community Service Award from the Athens Athletic Hall of Fame and the 2017 President’s Award from the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, recognizing her 12 years of work with the Brooklyn Cemetery.

 

Meriwether Rhodes has always been fascinated by cemeteries and the stories they tell. College and work have taken her from North Carolina to San Diego and Boston. She visits cemeteries wherever she lives and whenever she travels to get a sense of each place’s unique history. Rhodes holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in health education and administration and has worked as an assistant in various offices as well as worked in the social work and healthcare fields. Her partner’s career brought them to Athens in 2005 and she discovered Brooklyn Cemetery, then completely overgrown, while on walks with her dog. She has since become the cemetery’s unofficial historian and researcher. Rhodes has used death certificates, census data, funeral home records, and interviews with family members to locate and identify more than 1,100 graves in the cemetery. She also drew the only known map of the cemetery and its gravesites.

ORDER TICKETS ONLINE   -or-   DOWNLOAD AN ORDER FORM HERE