BACKSTORY: From the Visit Historic Savannah website: Originally part of the a plantation owned by the Stiles family, the land was acquired by the City of Savannah in 1850, and it became the city's primary burial ground. This lovely cemetery features small parks, detailed ironwork and ornate mausoleums.
The Laurel Grove Cemetery is divided into two sections - north and south by Highway 204. But more than just a road divides these two sections. Laurel Grove north, a burial place for white people, is the home for thousands of graves in a natural setting of magnolia, live oak, dogwood and pine. More than 1500 Confederate Soldiers are buried in a section devoted entirely to the Civil War dead including eight generals: Francis Bartow, Jeremy F. Gilmer, Paul J. Harrison, Sr., Gilbert M. Sorrell, Lafayette McLaws, Peter McGlashan, Henry C. Wayne and Edward C. Willis. One of the most popular sites is the grave of Juliet Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts. Other notables include a US Supreme Court Associate Justice and 24 Savannah Mayors.
In 1853, 15 aces of the original cemetery were set aside for the burial of "free persons of color and slaves." Six years later, the city council increased the size of Laurel Grove South to 30 acres and a caretaker's house was built. Rich in history, this cemetery is one of the oldest black cemeteries currently in use. Notables buried here include Reverend Andrew Bryan (1716-1812), Reverend Henry Cunningham (1759-1842), and Reverend Andrew Cox Marshall (1755-1856), all early Baptist ministers in Savannah.
The original "Negro Ground" cemetery lay beyond the southern edge of the city where the Massie School stands today. Demand for housing led to the removal of the cemetery and the opening of Laurel Grove South for burials. The remains of Bryan and Cunningham, along with many others, were moved to Laurel from the old "Negro Ground" cemetery.
Preservation movements began in 1931 when the cemetery was cleaned up. In 1958, thanks to the efforts of a number of prominent black citizens, the Savannah Sugar Refinery presented wrought iron gates to the city for the cemetery, and the city itself spent $3000 to clean and renovate the site. Further improvements were made in the early 1970s and street signs and grave markers were provided to make it easy to identify individual burial places.
The tombstones range from simple markers to elaborately carved figures. Inscriptions reveal a fascinating history not found in any books. Laurel Grove Cemetery South is a tour stop on the African-American tours given six days a week by the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum.
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