The Victorians used symbolism to discuss death. From heavenly hands reaching down to earth to wilted flowers, the use of words was rarely utilized to discuss the tragedy of death. Sometimes seen prior to 1900, there was a slight change in the 1900s where the manner of death was permanently shared as part of an epitaph. While not a frequent find, I admit these epitaphs always leaving me wanting to know more.
Athens, Clarke County, Georgia
Founded in 1882, Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery in Athens, Georgia was the first cemetery owned by Black community in town. Over 3,000 Black Athenians have been laid to rest here. From Monroe “Pink” Morton, a prominent builder and namesake of the Morton Theater, to noted quilt maker, Harriet Powers.
The Gospel Pilgrims were a benevolent organization started after the Civil War. One benefit the group provided was burial insurance. In Athens, the organization was so popular that by 1912 almost 75% Black Athenians were members.
It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.
Outside of Carlton, Alabama, Mt. Nebo Baptist Church’s cemetery contains death masks created by Isaac Nettles. Nettles created these masks by making molds of the subjects’ faces while they were still alive, which is different than the traditional death mask which are made after someone passes. The three person marker represents Isaac and Cora’s three daughters, and it rests atop Cora’s grave. There are two other markers made by Nettles. These are deteriorating quickly. In 2020, Hurricane Sally caused significant damage to the masks. These are incredible pieces of folk art. At one point, there were four death masks. One was made for Isaac’s mother Selena/Celina. It was damaged by Hurricane Frederick in 1979. The markers were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.
Some of you may know this building in Athens as the Hawaiian Ha-le Club. It’s one of the places the B-52s identified as an inspiration for their song, ”Love Shack.” They mention it in several interviews over the years. More importantly, this is the only remaining Rosenwald School in Clarke County, Georgia. My research had led me to believe they had all been demolished. That’s the case with many Rosenwald Schools, the history gets lost until someone shares the connection. Originally called County Training School (a common name for Rosenwald Schools), the school’s name changed to the Judia Jackson Harris School. Judia Jackson Harris was an early Black educator who worked to raise money to build this school after the original school burned. Historic Athens recently named this as a Place in Peril. This school needs to be saved.