By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published August 16, 2012
The Archdiocese of Atlanta has received a substantial gift from the estate of Margaret Mitchell’s nephew, Joseph, including a 50 percent share of the trademark and literary rights to “Gone With the Wind.”
The estate of Joseph Mitchell included a multi-million dollar bequest to the archdiocese and the donation of his home on Habersham Road in Atlanta.
One of two sons of Margaret Mitchell’s brother, Stephens, Joseph Mitchell died in October 2011. He was a member of the Cathedral of Christ the King and asked that, if possible, his donation assist the Cathedral in a particular way.
“It is a magnificent gift,” said Deacon Steve Swope, who has been shepherding the transition of the bequest on behalf of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
The remarkable inheritance passed on to the archdiocese includes a collection of signed “Gone With the Wind” first editions published in various languages in countries around the world and an unpublished history of the Mitchell family, handwritten by Margaret’s father, Eugene Muse Mitchell.
Some of Margaret Mitchell’s personal effects, including her wallet with her press card and library card, and furniture from her apartment have been given to the archdiocese.
A library of books includes histories and signed first editions of the late Georgia Catholic author Flannery O’Connor’s novels and short stories.
Joseph Mitchell, 76, was the last direct descendant of the Mitchell family. His brother, Eugene, a generous benefactor of Morehouse College and School of Medicine, as was Margaret Mitchell, died in 2007. Eugene’s widow, Virginia, is still living. The two brothers had each inherited a trust with a half share of the literary and trademark rights to the celebrated novel written by their late aunt.
The movie rights were sold immediately after “Gone With the Wind” was published in 1936 to instantaneous success. Two million copies of the novel had been sold by 1939. The work was quickly translated into Arabic, Asian and eastern and western European languages. Mitchell was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 for her work, and, according to Publishers Weekly, the novel continues to sell in the United States at a rate of about 75,000 copies a year.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta has created a corporation with the Eugene Mitchell trust in order to manage the literary inheritance. The archdiocese will also continue to use the group of attorneys, colleagues of Stephens Mitchell, who have been safeguarding the literary work and its appropriate use on behalf of the Mitchell family for decades.
“We want to continue to make ‘Gone With the Wind’ available to the widest possible audience and to do it in a way that is respectful and dignified and in line with the wishes of the late Stephens Mitchell,” Deacon Swope said.
The “artifacts that were part of the provenance of Margaret Mitchell” are being preserved by the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Swope said. It is hoped that in the future, the private, non-circulating collection can be loaned to a major institution for public display, he said.
From the Joseph Mitchell estate, Archbishop Gregory has designated that $7.5 million be given to the Cathedral of Christ the King for its building fund.
He has also assigned $1.5 million to Catholic Charities Atlanta for its immediate use and an additional $2 million to create an endowment fund for the social services agency to address its long-term need for sustaining income.
The archbishop has also asked the Catholic Foundation of North Georgia to create an endowment fund for each parish, mission and Catholic school of the archdiocese with a $10,000 gift apiece from the Joseph Mitchell estate, totaling over $1 million.
He has also assigned $150,000 to the Deacons’ Assistance Fund, $100,000 of which will be a challenge grant that is in place until May 31, 2013, to match any charitable contributions made to the fund during that time.
The remainder of the Mitchell bequest will be held in reserve and used by the archdiocese for general religious purposes as requested in Joseph Mitchell’s will, Deacon Swope said.
Plans call for the Cathedral parish, which has limited space on its Peachtree Road site, to use part of the bequest to purchase the nearby archbishop’s residence on West Wesley and renovate it as a rectory for Cathedral priests. A new residence is planned for Archbishop Gregory and future archbishops of Atlanta on the Habersham Road property given by Joseph Mitchell.
“The Archdiocese of Atlanta has been blessed with a generous gift through the kindness of Joe Mitchell,” Archbishop Gregory said. “This gift is a reservoir of the funds earned through the genius of Margaret Mitchell and her depiction of the harsh struggles of Southern life during and after the Civil War. The Mitchell family has a proud Catholic legacy, and this gift will allow that legacy and that pride to be shared with many others in the archdiocese.”
“Christ the King parish, Joe’s church home, the works of Catholic Charities, a passionate concern for Joe, and each parish community and our schools within the archdiocese will share in the gift of his kindness,” the archbishop said. “Thus the Mitchell legacy will help the Catholic community and those that are served by the Catholic Church to have a brighter future. We should all give thanks for Joe’s kindness and remember all of the Mitchell family in our prayers.”
Father Frank McNamee, Cathedral rector, said the bequest came at a time when the parish was at a critical point with a need to expand some of its facilities.
“The Mitchell legacy will be so much a part of our new expansion,” he said.
“Firstly, I was shocked and then I was very thankful,” he said, “because we were at a crossroads with all that was happening at the Cathedral.”
“I also thank the archbishop because it is very generous what he is doing. That is a sizable amount. I thank him on behalf of the Cathedral parishioners for this great gift and his support of the Cathedral for this project,” Father McNamee said.
The Catholic roots of the Mitchell family come through Margaret and Stephens’ mother, Maybelle Stephens Mitchell, whose father, John Stephens, was born in Ireland and whose mother, Annie Fitzgerald Stephens, descends from one of the earliest Catholic families in Georgia.
In Finis Farr’s biography of Margaret Mitchell, Stephens Mitchell said his mother was educated in a convent school in Quebec, Canada, and was so concerned with teaching and defending the Catholic faith she helped found the Catholic Laymen’s Association of Georgia, made up of prominent lay Catholics who wrote and spoke to explain Catholic beliefs and defend the Church against anti-Catholicism.
Stephens Mitchell also contributed articles about Catholic involvement in Georgia history to The Bulletin of the Catholic Laymen’s Association of Georgia, the predecessor of The Georgia Bulletin, according to Rita DeLorme, a Savannah diocesan volunteer archivist. He was active at Sacred Heart Church’s St. Vincent de Paul Society.
The Fitzgeralds are in the sacramental records of Purification Church in Sharon, the oldest Catholic church in Georgia, said Carolyn Denton, Atlanta archdiocesan archivist.