It was a celebration with moments of joyful enthusiasm and quiet reflection. This was a tribute to a man who had long been forgotten and would have remained so. However, Southwestern College Vice President Dawn Pleas Bailey sought to discover who was the first African American graduate of her school. She came across the name of Elijah Pilgrim Geiger.
Upon investigating, Bailey discovered that after being born a slave in Alabama, Geiger went on graduate from Southwestern and become a community leader and pastor in Wichita in the early 1900s. But when Bailey tried to find his tombstone she discovered he didn't have one.
"I just assumed when I went to the cemetary that I would find a grave marker," Bailey says.
However, visitors to Wichita's Maple Grove Cemetary will soon be able to find Geiger's grave well-marked. At St. Mark United Methodist Church where Geiger pastored generations ago Southwestern College leaders unveiled a gravestone that is 68 years overdue.
"Being an African-American in that day and time--going to college, getting his education, leading churches--that absolutely was a message that he lived the civil rights movement rather than, if you will, led the civil rights movement," Southwestern trustee and St. Mark member Ron Holt says.
Now, rediscovering this long-forgotten role model inspires a new generation.
"When I hear his name I think of someone who paved the way for myself," Southwestern senior Jeremiah Roberts says.
Senior Ashlie Edwards says, "It has taken so long for us to pay tribute to him, so it's exciting that we've overcome that and we're here and we're celebrating his life and his legacy."
It's a legacy that is now etched in stone.
In addition to being one of the first pastors at St. Mark, Geiger served as leader of Wichita's Ministerial League, helped organize the city's 1920 emancipation rally, and mentored students at Southwestern College in Winfield.