Man's Life-Long Journey Honored With Headstone

By: Alicia Myers Email
By: Alicia Myers Email

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

"I'd like to share with you the story of a good, and faithful man," said Dr. Dawn Pleas-Bailey, Southwestern College VP of Student Life and Special Assistant to the President for Community Engagement.

The man she began describing was one no one knew, but wished they did.

Through song, dance, words and celebration, members of Saint Mark United Methodist Church and Southwestern College spent Sunday honoring the life of Rev. Elijah Pilgrim Geiger.

He was a man who was born an infant slave in Alabama in 1864.

"For the first 25 years of his life, he worked hard," said Dr. Pleas-Bailey.

When he was 25 years old, Geiger moved to Missouri, where he was a minister for several years. In 1892, he made his way to Kansas to attend Southwestern College.

"He was described as one of the hardest working, truest, faithful graduates they had ever had," said Dr. Pleas-Bailey.

Geiger marked his name in the Southwestern history books, and became the first African American to graduate from the school. Following graduation, Geiger went back to preaching.

Seventeen years later, he was sent to Wichita, and became the 5th pastor of what is now Saint Mark UMC.

In 1939, Geiger became ill. He passed away four years later, and was laid to rest at Maple Grove Cemetery, in an unmarked grave.

"He had no one to remember him after his death. No grave marker, no pictures, no mention in books, no gratitude," said Mr. Ronald Holt, Southwestern College Trustee.

Nearly seventy years later, Geiger is no longer an unknown man. Thanks to a gift from dozens of Kansans he never met, Geiger's life-long journey is now known.

It is a story that will now be marked by a headstone. The City of Wichita has named October 16 "Reverend Elijah Pilgrim Geiger Day" in honor of his life.

The headstone will be placed on top of his grave this week.

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