As you drive south on Jonesboro Road past the old Clark College and Gammon Seminary campuses you enter the Lakewood Heights section of Atlanta. A block or so past the Blair Village Pawn Shop you can see it on the left side of the street. Many people in Atlanta are not familiar with South-View Cemetery, but for those living in this area of Southeast Atlanta, South-View has been a major part of their lives. In the 1880s, after being unable to enter the front gates of white-owned cemeteries for burial, six Black citizens got together to organize South-View Cemetery.
Today, the cemetery, comprised of one hundred acres of land is the resting place for many Atlantans, both known and unknown. Some of the more notable dead whose final resting place is in this history-filled cemetery are the parents of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Their tomb is actually the same one that Dr. King’s body first occupied when he was assassinated in 1968. After his remains were relocated to the historic Martin Luther King, Jr. Center on Auburn Avenue, the family retained the original tomb and location. The only thing that was changed to Dr. King’s original tomb is the faceplate that now bears his parents’ names.
Just beyond the King’s tomb is the final resting place of baseball great, Henry “Hank” Aaron.
South-View is also the final resting place for Atlanta businessman and Civil Rights activist, Jesse Hill, Jr., whose headstone is positioned on a slope overlooking an expanse of grave markers looking to the north.
Just down the hill from him is U. S. Congressman John Lewis’s burial site along with his wife, Lillian.
On the southside of the cemetery you can see grave markers for other notables such as Atlanta businessman and Civil Rights activist Herman J. Russell, David T. Howard [Howard High School], Alonzo Herndon, William Crogman [Clark University], Luther Judson Price [L. J. Price High School], Peter James Bryant [Wheat Street Baptist Church], Bishop Henry McNeal Turner [Turner High School] and many more of Atlanta’s past and prominent leaders.
It is noted that Atlanta businessman / insurance / actuaryJesse Hill, Jr. and Atlanta businessman / construction mogul Herman J. Russell, both mentioned above, are two of the impetuses of The Atlanta Inquirer newspaper, founded in 1960, in support of the Atlanta Student Movement that led the Civil Rights Movement.
You will also see the cemetery plot of John Wesley E. Bowen in this same section of South-View. The Bowen family plot is nicely laid out and there are close to ten family members buried there. A little history about John Wesley E. Bowen. He was born in New Orleans after his father moved from Chicago, Illinois in the mid-1850s. This means that Bowen was born into slavery. However, his father purchased his family’s freedom in 1858. After receiving his undergraduate degree, Bowen taught at various schools, teaching languages such as Greek, Latin, and even Hebrew. A true intellectual, he pursued his master’s degree and went on to earn the Ph.D. degree from Boston University in 1887. The first Black person in America to do so. His teaching and preaching finally brought him to Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta, where was later elected to be the third president of the seminary and the school’s first African-American president. While president at Gammon, John Wesley E. Bowen was arrested and beaten for providing shelter and protection for Blacks on Gammon’s campus during the Atlanta Riot / Massacre of 1906. All of this history is located at South-View Cemetery on Jonesboro Road in Atlanta. The cemetery offers brochures for self-guided tours to all who would like to visit.
South-View Cemetery, as quiet as it’s kept, is an important place in Atlanta to learn about some of the city’s interesting history.