Franklin Residential College at Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery

  • Location: Athens-Clarke County, Georgia
  • Director: Ben Ehlers (History)
  • Schedule: Fall 2019-Spring 2020

The Gospel Pilgrim Initiative builds upon several years’ worth of data collection efforts by our DH scholars working with DigiLab to datafy the historical death Gospel Pilgrimrecords of Athens-Clarke County, where University of Georgia is located. Marrying death certificates to city mortuary records and the city directory, the team has assembled a database of 3,423 individuals who died between 1917 and 1923, complete with cause of death, age at death, place of burial, residential address, occupation, and other demographic details. The Gospel Pilgrim Initiative furthers this work by focusing on the 257 individuals recorded as being buried in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, the historic (legally ‘abandoned’) African American cemetery on the east side of Athens.

In 2018, the members of Franklin Residential College (a learning community of 90 undergraduate students in the Arts & Sciences) proposed a service day at the cemetery and spent the time pulling weeds, clearing gravesites, and carting off fallen branches for composting. The experience left them determined to take more of an interest in the place and to help defend it by researching and publicizing its stories.  Founded in 1882, the cemetery includes the graves of prominent figures including William A. Pledger, Harriet Powers, and Monroe “Pink” Morton (1856-1919), owner of the Morton Theater. Working in conjunction with the Friends of Gospel Pilgrim, a group led by UGA students from History and Historic Preservation, FRC members pulled weeds, cleared gravesites, and carted off fallen branches for composting. FRC returned to Gospel Pilgrim in spring 2019, and following the success of these events, the leaders proposed a more sustained service project in 2019-20.

The goals for the coming year will begin with scheduled work sessions at Gospel Pilgrim cemetery, with the goal of every one of FRC’s ninety three undergraduate members participating at least once over the course of the year. These sessions will focus on clearing brush; improving gravesite visibility; structural upgrades such as fencing; and enhanced signage.  Connected with this improved collaboration with local residents and organizations including Linda Davis, leader of the Friends of Brooklyn Cemetery; Fred Smith, local historian; and Broderick Flanigan, narrator of the film Below Baldwin.  These visits will be supported with research into the history of Gospel Pilgrim cemetery, and the lives of those buried there. Data from death certificates and supporting information will provide the basis for a map – geographic and prosopographical – of the persons interred in the cemetery. This map will be featured as part of the enhanced web presence for FRC@Gospel Pilgrim, which will also include including digital versions of historical documents and images, and records of FRC’s involvement.