Margaret Mitchell's nephew leaves estate to Atlanta Archdiocese

The Archdiocese of Atlanta announced Thursday a major gift that includes a 50 percent stake in the trademark and literary rights to the international bestseller "Gone With the Wind" and personal items of its author.

The multi-million dollar bequest was made by Joseph Mitchell, nephew of GWTW author Margaret Mitchell.

Joseph Mitchell, who died last October, was one of the two sons of Margaret Mitchell's brother, Stephens, and a longtime member of the Cathedral of Christ the King.

"This is a huge windfall for the Catholic church," said Pamela Roberts, an executive producer at Georgia Public Broadcasting and the producer of an award-winning documentary on Margaret Mitchell. "These people are so lucky."

She said while Margaret Mitchell may no longer be a household name, her novel, published in 1936, is still hugely popular. "It's amazing how beloved that novel remains today," she said.

Steve Swope, a deacon in the archdiocese who has been overseeing the gift on behalf of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, said it's hard to determine the royalties from owning a share of those book rights. Swope thinks it could be in the "hundreds of thousands" of dollars annually from usage of the book just for productions like ballets and plays.

"We hope we can be good, solid stewards of this wonderful literary work," he said. The remainder of the rights are held in trust for the family of Joseph Mitchell's late brother, Eugene. The film rights were sold long ago.

Joseph Mitchell also bequeathed his financial assets, including stocks and bonds, to the archdiocese, totaling between $15-20 million. He requested that Gregory use the money to further the work of the archdiocese with special consideration to the cathedral and charity.

"Truly, it's an amazing blessing," said the Rev. Frank McNamee, rector at Christ the King.

McNamee, who presided over Joseph Mitchell's funeral mass and burial last year, said he was "blown away" by the gift. He said Joseph Mitchell never mentioned his famous relative.

"Joe was a very shy gentleman," he said. 'You would have to stroke up the conversation, if you know what I mean."

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

What will really thrill GWTW devotees though, are the personal items, such as a collection of "Gone with the Wind" first editions, some signed, in various languages; an unpublished history of the Mitchell family written by Margaret Mitchell's father, Eugene Muse Mitchell; her bed and dining room table; her silver; the wallet that she was carrying when she was struck by a taxi on Peachtree Street and later died; her press card; and driver's license. Swope hopes that those items can be housed in a museum or institution.

The bequest to the archdiocese may raise a few eyebrows because Margaret Mitchell left the Catholic church in later life.

Darden Asbury Pyron, a professor of history at Florida International University and author of "Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell," said her break was "nothing anti-clerical." He said she had an intense relationship with her mother, who was profoundly Catholic.

"She associated her mother with the church," he said. "She never denounced the church. She simply left."

He said the gift to the archdiocese is keeping in line with the Catholic leanings of her family, adding, "So it's logical that it would go to the church."