Georgia Historical Society Dedicates New Historical Marker Recognizing John Wesley Gilbert

Augusta, GA, May 2, 2024—On Thursday, May 2, 2024, the Georgia Historical Society (GHS) unveiled a new historical marker in Augusta that recognizes John Wesley Gilbert (c.1863 – 1923). Gilbert became known internationally for his archaeological work and linguistic skills.

“The Georgia Historical Society is pleased to work with the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, Paine College, and the American School of Classic Studies at Athens, to recognize the pioneering archaeologist and classicist, John Wesley Gilbert,” said Elyse Butler, Manager of Programs and Special Projects, Georgia Historical Society. “This new historical marker highlights the legacy of Gilbert’s scholarship and adds to the existing narrative of historical markers in Augusta illustrating the city’s rich and diverse history.”

Born enslaved near Hephzibah shortly before emancipation, Gilbert earned degrees among the first generation of African Americans who could legally gain an education, graduating from Augusta’s segregated public schools, Paine Institute (now Paine College), and Brown University. Today he is considered to be the first African-American archaeologist. Gilbert completed a professional archaeological survey in ancient Eretria, Greece, in the 1890s. His pioneering work remains valuable to archaeologists today, as it is considered the first to notice the correct placement of the neighborhoods of Socrates and Plato.

"John Wesley Gilbert, among many others in the decades following the Civil War, embraced the study of ancient Greece and Rome as a means of understanding the bedrock of contemporary American society,” said Professor Mark L. Lawall, Chair of the Managing Committee, American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and Professor of Classical Studies, University of Manitoba. “Gilbert did more than just read Plato and Sophocles; he spent 1890-1891 at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens carrying out his own study of the political organization of ancient Athens and contributing to the archaeological knowledge of ancient Eretria on the island of Euboea. Thus, from the very land of Greece, John Wesley Gilbert created new knowledge and new ways of understanding the past that played such a significant role in shaping America."

For more than 30 years Gilbert taught humanities at Paine College, including Greek, Latin, and Biblical Hebrew courses. Between 1911-1912 Gilbert and Bishop Walter Russell Lambuth established a Methodist mission in the Belgian Congo. Gilbert’s diplomatic skills and knowledge of the local Bantu language contributed to the mission’s early success.

“John Wesley Gilbert—named after the father of Methodism—became Paine College’s first student, first graduate, first Black faculty member, and, arguably, the school’s most outstanding product,” said Dr. Mallory K. Millender, Professor, Paine College.

The marker was erected and dedicated in front of the Gilbert-Lambuth Memorial Chapel on the Paine College campus. The chapel is named for Gilbert and Walter Russell Lambuth, the bishop with whom Gilbert completed the mission to the Belgian Congo. Speakers included Toni Dean, Program Manager, Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History; The Honorable Garnett L. Johnson, Mayor, The Office of the Mayor of Augusta; Commissioner Francine Scott, Augusta Commission; Commissioner Jordan Johnson, Augusta Commission; Cheryl Evans Jones, Ph.D., President, Paine College; John W.I. Lee, Ph.D., Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara; Darryl Nettles, Ph.D., Georgia African American Historic Preservation Network; Breana James, Historical Marker and Program Coordinator, Georgia Historical Society; Professor Jeffrey Jones, Acting Chair, Department of Humanities, Paine College; and Corey Rogers, Executive Director, Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History.

The marker text reads:

John Wesley Gilbert (c.1863 – 1923)

John Wesley Gilbert is considered the first African-American archaeologist. Born enslaved near Hephzibah, he was educated in Augusta’s segregated public schools, at Paine Institute (now Paine College), and at Brown University, where he focused on ancient Greek. In 1888, he became Paine College’s first Black faculty member, teaching humanities there until 1919. From 1890-1891, Gilbert represented Brown University in Greece as one of the first 50 Americans and the first African American at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). With the ASCSA, Gilbert and his colleague John Pickard conducted a pioneering archaeological and topographical survey of the ancient city of Eretria that set a standard for future professional research. Between 1911-1912, Gilbert helped establish a Methodist mission in the Belgian Congo. Gilbert died in 1923 and is buried in Augusta’s Cedar Grove Cemetery.

Erected by the Georgia Historical Society, the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, Paine College,
and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

For more information about John Wesley Gilbert (c.1863 – 1923) historical marker dedication or the Georgia Historical Society marker program, please contact Elyse Butler, Manager of Programs and Special Projects, at 912.651.2125, ext. 119, or by email at


The Georgia Historical Society (GHS) is the premier independent statewide institution responsible for collecting, examining, and teaching Georgia history. GHS houses the oldest and most distinguished collection of materials related exclusively to Georgia history in the nation.
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The Georgia Historical Marker Program is an important part of the Georgia Historical Society’s (GHS) statewide educational mission. Through a public-private partnership with the State of Georgia, GHS is responsible for erecting new historical markers and maintaining more than 2,000 markers installed by the State prior to the program’s privatization in 1998. Online mapping tools allow users to explore themed marker trails and design custom driving routes. Visit for more ways to use Georgia’s historical markers and experience history where it happened.