We did a little trip down to Cordele, Georgia, this weekend. Once there, I was a little hazy on the directions, but I spotted A.S. Clark Drive and knew we were good.
Augustus S. Clark was among the cohort of (mostly) young men who erupted from Wilson in the 1880s and ’90s,* determined to lead. Born in the final days of slavery, or just after, they drank in everything J.C. Price and Samuel H. Vick poured at Wilson Academy, went straight to university (often at Lincoln, their instructors’ alma mater), then set out, in Clark’s later words, to “… do what I can for the uplift of my people.”
Dr. Augustus S. Clark (1874-1959). (Photo courtesy of Frank T. Wilson, ed., “Living Witnesses: Black Presbyterians in Ministry II,” Journal of Presbyterian History, volume 53, number 3 (Fall 1985).)
For his part, in 1902 Clark founded, with his wife Annie, the Gillespie Normal School, later Gillespie-Selden Institute, in Cordele. In 1925, the institute added an hospital. (The closest Black medical facility was 142 miles away in Atlanta.) I’ve written of Gillespie-Selden here and finally went to see it.
Gillespie Institute Founded By Rev. and Mrs. Augustus Clark September 1, 1902 Served By Them Until October 1, 1941 Alumni 1942
The school complex forms the heart of Cordele’s Gillespie-Selden Historic District. Below, the school’s administration building, built in 1935.
The girls’ dormitory below, built in 1929, is the most imposing building in the neighborhood.
A rear addition has been largely torn down, and an open door grants access to the interior.
The building holds evidence of fairly recent use as a family resource and daycare center, as well as squatters. All things considered though, it is in pretty good condition.
This room runs the length of the back wall on the first floor.
At the front of the building, a series of small interconnected rooms flanks a central entry hall. I didn’t venture upstairs.
The cornerstone of the girls’ dormitory.
A marble plaque inlaid by the class of 1929.
The President’s House, also known as Dr. Clark’s house, which sits just to the west of the girls’ dormitory. The Clarks retired from active teaching and school leadership in 1941.
Below, Saint Paul Presbyterian, also founded by Rev. Clark. The tin-roofed section at right appears to be the original church, updated with brick.
Gillespie-Selden Institute, Class of 1947, in front of the girls’ dormitory. (Photo courtesy of St. Paul Gillespie-Selden Learning Center Facebook page.)
Gillespie-Selden Institute closed in 1956 when Cordele finally erected a high school for African-American students. Named in honor of A.S. Clark, the school eventually converted to an elementary school, but closed in 2014. The building is now under development as a non-profit biomedical institute.
For more about Gillespie-Selden Historic District, see the Gillespie-Selden Historic District National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, which contains this passage:
“Within the Gillespie-Selden Historic District, the outreach missionary role of Dr. Augustus S. Clark (1874-1959) and St. Paul Presbyterian Church is significant to the development of the neighborhood. Dr. Clark completed his theological training at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1897; he was sent by the Presbyterian National Board of Missions to Cordele in 1898 as a missionary to help the struggling Portis Memorial Presbyterian Church. During that same year, a loan was secured from the Board of the Church Erection Fund of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church for the construction of a new church building to be named St. Paul Presbyterian Church.
“In 1902, Dr. Clark and his wife, Anna, realized that there were less than adequate educational institutions for African-Americans to attend in Cordele as well as the entire southwest region of the state. Dr. Clark taught elementary-level and Sunday-school classes in the basement of St. Paul Presbyterian Church, but found he needed more space. … By 1904, enough money had been donated by white members of northern Presbyterian churches, especially the Gillespie family of Pittsburgh, that three buildings of the school complex were constructed. …”
See also, this 2009 design charrette prepared by University of Georgia’s Center for Community Design and Preservation and the 2103 Gillespie-Selden Historic District Design Guidelines.
Another memorial plaque, this one embedded in a brick pillar in front of the administration building.
* This cohort included A.S. Clark’s brothers John H., William H., and Thomas G. Clark, Samuel H. Vick, his brother William H. Vick, and cousin Frank O. Blount, brothers Daniel C. and James T. Suggs, Henry C. Lassiter, Braswell R. Winstead, and Charles H. Bynum, all Lincoln University graduates; the Suggses’ sister Serena Suggs Moore; Joseph H. Ward; Ardella Kersey; Mahala Williamson Reid; sisters Ada G. Battle and Geneva Battle Faver; and J. Arthur Cotton.
Photos of G.S.I. taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, June 2020.