Southwestern College Honors Its First Black Graduate

In 1899 Elijah Pilgrim Geiger graduated with honors from Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas. He was the school’s first African-American graduate. He was described at the time as “one of the truest, most faithful, and hard-working students that we have ever had.”

After two-years of research that took her to four states, Dawn Pleas-Bailey, vice president for student life at Southwestern College, found that Geiger was buried in an unmarked grave in Wichita. Students, alumni, and staff donated money to buy a headstone for the grave. The stone was unveiled at a ceremony held Sunday at the Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Wichita, where Geiger was pastor for five years beginning in 1917.

Geiger later settled in Sapula, Oklahoma. He died in 1943 at the age of 73. His funeral was held at  Saint Mark United Methodist Church and he was buried in an unmarked grave in Wichita’s Maple Grove Cemetery.


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