The forgotten stories of “Black Magnolias” from Oakland Cemetery

First in a series

Jihan Hurse, guide, Atlanta, GA.’s Oakland Cemetery’s “Black Magnolias” tour


Atlanta, GA — On a chilly Saturday winter morning, Oakland Cemetery’s “Black Magnolias” Tour Guide and Author Jihan Hurse, excitedly gives highlights of the Black women who lie among its 70,000 “residents” in the city’s historic cemetery.

The hour allotted for the tour was not enough time for all of the stories about accomplished Black women who are buried in Oakland Cemetery. Yet, the Black Magnolias tour was a refreshing collection of insight into the lives of Black women who were quiet and major influencers in the Atlanta region, Georgia and nationwide. Along the multiple paths laden mostly with bricks from days gone by, there were periodic stops at the chosen grave sites of many women who were doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, mothers, wives, educators and skilled technicians.

The Black Magnolias story at Oakland Center is grounded in the fortitude of laundry or washerwomen whose citywide protest resulted in violence, arrests, intimidation and ultimately, a major victory for the Black women who refused to return to work unless their financial and work life demands were met. Their well-organized strike involved some 3,000 Black laundresses and it nearly imperiled the 1881 World’s Fair in Atlanta.

Former slaves strike for better pay and work conditions in 1881.


While praising the domestic workers’ brave and labor market altering stance, Hurse strategically showcased other Black women whose legacies are integral to the success of the Atlanta area, Georgia and the nation. Despite the achievements that stretch beyond racial and geographical boundaries, most of the 12,000 African Americans — including approximately 1,800 slaves — are buried at Oakland in segregated sections known as the African American, Slave and Potters sections.

There are also exceptions to the burial rules of segregating whites, Blacks and Jewish deceased persons from one another. When whites sought permissions to move the burial area initially designated for Black slaves, the graves were moved to the back of the cemetery. Some natural markers such as stones and sticks were not preserved. When that relocation was completed, some families such as the Boylstons asked for an additional set of permissions and that was to bury their “domestic worker,” Catherine Holmes, alongside their family members, according to Hurse. Elise Boylston had a special fondness for “Caty” and the young Boylston lady authored work that included her slave. By the 1960s, Blacks were not segregated to one area or two areas of the cemetery

The grave marker for “Caty” Holmes, a “domestic worker” in the Boylston household, is left. This is a partial view of the extensive Boylston plot in the former Slave section of Oakland Cemetery.


A dozen other Black Magnolias were pointed out by Hurse as significant based on a range of qualities such as the first Black lady buried in Oakland Cemetery, to the sisters who established the first hospital with 15 beds that was available to Black patients.

Below is the grave site of Estella Henderson was an attorney, an author of books on race relations and was recognized by U.S. President William Howard Taft. Her sister, Dr. Blanche Beatrice Bowman Thompson, was a doctor whose practice pioneered specialty work for Black medical professionals in Georgia.


Future blogs will highlight the historical women of Oakland Cemetery. For those interested in the many stories of the Black men and women buried in Oakland Cemetery, the virtual tour is found through this service:

Good Genes Genealogy Services encourages readers of this blog to investigate similar historical stories in cemeteries that bear great stories such as those found at the Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.


The 48-acre cemetery that is also considered a city park. The Oakland Cemetery Foundation conducts several tours each year, including a handful devoted to honoring Black history and women’s history.


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Closing the Month of Sankofa with Ancestral Prayer and Healing

The gathering for ancestral prayer and healing at Hillside International Truth Center, Atlanta, GA

On a warm Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, Hillside’s Presiding Bishop Dr. Jack L. Bomar, led the sacred, community “Ancestral Prayer” ceremony. It included drumming that girded the rhymical and ancestral honoring blessings with the pouring of libations by Hillside member Sharon A. Smith. Today, she said, “I am the High Priestess” while acknowledging the oldest person attending the ceremony to give her the permission to continue.

The ceremony was the culmination of a monthlong series of genealogy workshops led by the Good Genes Genealogy Services team. GGGS donated its services to its host, Hillside International Truth Center, which is undergoing a massive renovation on the church’s nearly 50-year-old facility.

The outdoor ceremony was highlighted by Bishop Bomar leading the attendees in a process that began with everyone listing their ancestors on a blue sheet of paper. Everyone was asked to call the names of the ancestors and affirm the following prayer:

Some 60 persons recited the prayer and continued their family ceremony to remove any negative Karma they felt towards ancestors, and they symbolically cancelled all ancestral debt with the purpose of their families moving forward in all levels of prosperity.

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#36 Go Back: Find a piece of history by taking a piece of advice

The most valuable piece of advice that I received when I was new to the family genealogy research, was to return the search process and review the same documents that I had earlier discovered.

Just days ago, I reviewed the information on my ancestors – again – I found new information about my ancestors. My breaks can be attributed to the ancestry.com’s ThruLines™ . This service is available to everyone with completed DNA results. Some 10 years ago or so when the DNA tests were first available to females, I jumped at the chance to get my results based on my desire to locate my ancestors. It continues to pay dividends today as records are constantly updated

She is listed as my 4th great grandmother born Oct. 11, 1806, in South Carolina and who died on Feb. 20, 1892 in Saline County, Arkansas.

What’s striking is how grandma is spelled on Great-Great-Great-Great Grandmother Elizabeth Jane Hardman Hayes tombstone. Also, I love the designation of the days and moths that she lived her life. It honors the great Elizabeth J. Wade Hardman Hayes.

For a couple of years, I celebrated that I located my 4th Great Grandmother. Now there is more: I just located her father, mother, siblings and her spouses, thanks to ThruLines™.

I found my 5th Great Grandfather! – Maybe

Notice the inscription that details Robert Henly Courts Wade being among the first white settlers in DeKalb County, Georgia where he claimed his family’s homestead in 1829.

Update: Friday, Oct. 8, 2021: With ancestry.com, we are examining whether this linkage is indeed my 5th GreatGrandfather. Stay tuned as these twists and turns are natural in the genealogy search for our relatives.

Thanks to the ancestry.com additional genealogy research tool, ThruLines™, I was able to work through the hints complete with a grave marker and public trees from others researching the same man. It provided this public path to find my common ancestors who seemingly were hiding in the piles of research materials.  and private paths to my common ancestors. It is a huge help in narrowing down who is and isn’t potentially related to me. The ancestors whose profiles are not public via others who are searching for their loved ones, are only listed, yet additional information about those deemed “private” is not provided. That is still a big help as I am seeking to match names, dates, relationships, locations and other hints to gain full access to the great people who walked this earth before me.

Guess what? These ancestors are buried in a private family cemetery, Wade Cemetery, just a few miles from my current home (Ann) in DeKalb County, Georgia. I will share more in future writings.

Five generations from Robert Henly Courts Wade to Ann Lineve Wead Kimbrough

To learn more about the exciting, step-by-step findings about our maternal ancestors who are listed as “white, Mulatto, yellow and Colored,” check out the Good Genes Genealogy Services’ e-book for November 2021. In the meantime, check out, like and follow our tweets, @GoodGensGen, @goodgenesgenealogy on WordPress and fb @goodgenesgenealogy.

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