Historic Marker recognizes first black archeologist, born in Hephzibah

(WJBF) – An author and professor is highlighting the first African-American Archaeologist, born in Hephzibah. I had the chance of speaking with Professor John Lee from the University of California, Santa Barbara about the historical marker unveiled this week.

“Professor Gilbert has received international recognition as the first black archeologist, and this marker makes that very, very visible and concrete right here on Paine College’s campus,” said John W.I. Lee, Author of “The First Black Archaeologist: A Life of John Wesley Gilbert”

Before his international recognition, John Wesley Gilbert was recognized right here in the CSRA as a native Augustan.

“Professor Gilbert was born into slavery in Hephzibah, Georgia– nearby. After emancipation, he got his education here, in the public schools of Augusta, Georgia. He studied at Atlanta Baptist Seminary, which later became Morehouse College, and he finished his education in Augusta here at Paine College, before going on to Brown University. So, it’s a real story of a local Augustan who has his roots here, his education here, his life and career here.”

On May 2nd, community leaders and local historians honored Gilbert with his very own stamp of commemoration.

“This particular marker honors professor John Wesley Gilbert who was a professor at Paine College, and in 1890-1891 was the first African-American scholar to go to Greece to do archaeological work as a member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens…”

Professor John Lee works in the Department of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. But, it was his studies in Athens, Greece that made Lee interested in Gilbert’s accomplishments.

“Once I realized that I had walked in his footsteps, I just felt like I had to tell his story, I felt called to do his story. Iworked with community members, here in Augusta, historians, librarians– many, many people– who shared their knowledge and expertise to help me tell that, that story.”

His hope now, is that those who walk this very street and see the Marker and Chapel named in Gilbert’s honor will know the history they walk on.

You can visit the marker for yourself just in front of the Gilbert-Lambuth Memorial Chapel at Paine College.

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