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Oakland Cemetery is known as one of the oldest landmarks in the Shreveport area, dating back to the 1840’s. Throughout its history many notable people were buried here consisting of: pioneers, clergyman, merchants, doctors, prominent business leaders, sixteen of Shreveport’s Mayors, and Confederate veterans of the Civil War. Over the decades it has seen neglect, yellow fever epidemics, and numerous preservation and maintenance efforts. One of the most important aspects of this city cemetery was that in 1977 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places; a rare honor considering that very few cemeteries are on the list. Oakland Cemetery is very important and influential in the history of the City of Shreveport in Northwest Louisiana.

Oakland Cemetery had its beginnings in 1847, when Mayor L.P. Crain and the Shreveport City Council issued an ordinance that all people were to be buried here who lived in the city limits. The consequence of not following this ordinance was a fine of fifty dollars. In 1849, another ordinance was issued by Mayor R.N. Wood and the city trustees to lay out the organization of the city cemetery. This consisted of having someone to maintain the graves (a Sexton) and the mapping of the alleyways in the cemetery. In the early 1850’s Sprague Street was opened to the cemetery and it is still here today. During 1858, the Hebrew Mutual Benevolent Association purchased one acre of land and dedicated the first cemetery to the Jewish community. In the 1860’s, after the Civil War, Oakland Cemetery fell into neglect. It was during this time, in 1866, that the Southwestern local newspaper editorial started to talk about the worsening state of the cemetery. This editorial in Shreveport urged residents to raise funds for the city cemetery and as a result the cemetery had a restoration period in the 1860’s.

The 1870's was a challenging time for the city of Shreveport, because it involved the Reconstruction period following the Civil War and the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1873. Oakland Cemetery was largely neglected again, attributed to the corruption of the Reconstruction era government. Hundreds of people died at the hands of the Yellow Fever epidemic and many were hastily and constantly buried at Oakland, mostly unmarked. The Yellow Fever epidemic killed about one third of the city’s population. Many of the dead were not even listed in city records, although a few were fortunate to have been. In 1877, Reconstruction was over.

The 1880's was also a period of change socially for the city. In 1894, the Ladies Cemetery Association was founded and improved the conditions of the city cemeteries, including Oakland Cemetery. Dr. Kendall, who was one of the city's first dentists and a veteran of the Civil War, purchased a lot for Confederate veterans earlier before the 1870's and planted Confederate and Union flags at the Cemetery. From 1900-1919, Mrs. Delay continued Dr. Kendall's work to preserve and improve the condition of the Oakland Cemetery. She was the daughter of former Shreveport Mayor Richard Vinson. In 1929, the Oakland Cemetery Association was formed and it was headed by Nettie Boisseau. She had tried her best to take care of the cemetery and she compiled lists of people buried at Oakland Cemetery. This period lasted until the 1940's.

By the middle of the 20th century, in the 1950's and 1960's, Oakland Cemetery was in a period of neglect. In the 1960’s, the Oakland Cemetery was under the Department of Public Utilities and it had no water faucets, bad infrastructure, and poor lighting. However, the North Louisiana Historical Association worked hard to keep interest in Shreveport's history alive to the younger generation. This time period started to finally change in 1970, when the Shreveport Beautification Foundation greatly worked to improve the condition of the cemetery. This was under the direction of chairman Aloyese Menasco, where the infrastructure and graves had been improved. In 1977, when the cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the City Council began to lose interest in it. The cemetery was neglected once again.

Despite recurring neglect, Shreveport's greatest historians like Eric J. Brock worked to help keep Oakland Cemetery history alive. This was during the 1980's, 1990's, and even into the 2000's. Brock wrote countless books and newspaper articles on the history of Oakland Cemetery. Patti M. Underwood constructed the City Council minutes timeline about the chronological history of Oakland Cemetery, and it is a very reputable source even to this day. Most recently in 2017, the KTBS news station report by Jeff Beimfohr says that the Oakland Cemetery Preservation Society (OCPS) planned to renew the cemetery by adding a gazebo. This is a walkway and an outdoor plaza they plan to add to make the cemetery a more social gathering place like it used to be. When the City Council approved it, the $90,000 is going to be paid by the Alta and John Franks Foundation completely. In the report, Steve Smith is a member of the OCPS and has worked tirelessly to preserve and improve the cemetery.

Thanks to the dedicated work of many historians and organizations, the Oakland Cemetery is still remembered and preserved for future generations to come. It will always be an integral part in Shreveport's history because it houses so many great people of the history of this city. This includes Alphonso Smith, the city’s first black doctor, and Mary Bennet Cane, "The Mother of Shreveport." The oldest known grave buried in Oakland dated back to 1842 and belonged to Rufus Sewall, the brother of Shreveport's first mayor John Octavius Sewall, who is believed to be buried in Oakland as well. Oakland Cemetery was known to be called Oakland Cemetery in 1905; before, it was just called the City Cemetery. The reason for the change of name cannot be absolutely certain. Furthermore, there is so much rich history and heritage that originates in Oakland that it has profoundly impacted the city and rests countless people who have shaped Shreveport into what it is today.

Francisco Guzman

Bibliography: Newberry, Jane Leslie. "Oakland Cemetery: Its Trials and Tribulations: The Evolution of a National Historic Landmark." North Louisiana Historical Association Journal Vol. 19, No. 2, 3. (Spring-Summer 1988): 69-77. Underwood, Patti M. "Oakland Cemetery Timeline." Sept. 24, 2012. Beimfohr, Jeff. "Preserving Shreveport's History -- one Grave at a Time | News | Ktbs.com." KTBS. July 13, 2017. https://www.ktbs.com/news/preserving-shreveport-s-history--one-grave-at-a-time/article_2950776c-6806-11e7-8242-3f3ce95f85c9.html. Brock, Eric J. "A Necrology of Graves at The Old Oakland Cemetery of Shreveport, Louisiana." Louisiana: J and W Enterprises, 1988. Brock, Eric J. "Manuscript: Oakland Cemetery." Vertical File: LSU-Shreveport Archives. No date.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Francisco Guzman, "Oakland Cemetery," Handbook of North Louisiana Online (http://www…….), accessed …………. Published by LSU-Shreveport.

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