Driving from New Orleans to Atlanta has led me through forests and swamps, through small towns and big cities, and past civil war and civil rights memorials. No question the complexity of the South is manifest in the landscape, down to the people who are buried in the tough red dirt.
It’s amazing the personalities you encounter when you take time to walk a cemetery. This brief list represents just a few of my favorite graves, and I mention each with full respect for their lives and legacy.
Booker T. Washington The renowned African-American author and civil rights leader taught, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” He is buried on the campus of his very own Tuskegee University in eastern Alabama.
George Washington Carver The man who popularized peanut butter taught most of his career at Tuskegee University, where his insights included gems like, “If you love it enough, anything will talk to you.” His grave lies right next to that of his former boss, Booker T. Washington.
Hank Williams Wannabe country singers take note: “You’ve got to have smelt a lot of mule manure before you can sing like a hillbilly.” So said the drifting cowboy Hank, who was buried in a silver coffin in Montgomery, Alabama.
Dr. John Stith Pemberton Wounded confederate soldier and morphine addict, Dr. Pemberton invented his own painkiller cure-all, later known as Coca-Cola, which said was especially effective on, “Ladies, and all those whose sedentary employment causes nervous prostration.” He is buried with family at the Linwood Cemetery in his native Columbus, Georgia.
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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. & Coretta Scott King The man who changed America forever taught us that, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” His legacy lives on, along with that of his wife, who said, “I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.” The couple’s grave sits at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia.
Margaret Mitchell Author of “Gone With The Wind”, the most vocal southerner of all claimed that. “The world can forgive practically anything except people who mind their own business.” You can pay homage to one of Georgia’s finest at Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery.
Berry Oakley & Duane Allman Southern rock stars Berry and Duane both died of motorcycle crashes, practically on the same block, one year apart. They were also perhaps the greatest guitarist and bassist who ever played in America. Duane had his own southern rituals, too, claiming, “Every time I’m in Georgia I eat a peach for peace.” The rock legends live on in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia where sadly, the band members’ grave is one of the most vandalized in the country. Please pay your respects with respect.