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For The Culture: Exploring African-American History In Savannah, Georgia


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Saree Eklund



Savannah, Georgia is not only renowned for its picturesque beauty and southern charm, but it is also a city rich in African-American history and culture. From its early African-American settlements to its role in the Civil Rights Movement, Savannah has played a significant part in shaping the narrative of African-Americans in the United States. This article will take you on a journey through the captivating history of African-Americans in Savannah, exploring the struggles, triumphs, and contributions that have made this city a cultural hub.


As you delve into Savannah’s African-American history, you will discover a city that has witnessed the enduring strength and resilience of its African-American population. From the days of slavery and the plantations to the fight for civil rights, Savannah has been a backdrop to pivotal moments in African-American history.


Throughout this article, we will explore the early African-American settlements in Savannah, the legacy of slavery and the plantations, the significance of historic African-American churches, and the impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on Savannah’s African-American community. We will also shine a light on prominent African-American figures who have shaped the city’s history and discuss the crucial role of Savannah in the Civil Rights Movement.


In addition to its historical significance, Savannah boasts numerous cultural landmarks and museums dedicated to preserving and celebrating African-American history. We will explore these sites and delve into the vibrant traditions of African-American cuisine and music that have taken root within the city.


Prepare to be captivated by the rich tapestry of African-American history that lies within the streets of Savannah. From the struggles and setbacks to the triumphs and contributions, this city stands as a testament to the African-American community’s indomitable spirit.


Early African-American settlements in Savannah

In the 18th century, Savannah became one of the largest port cities in the southern United States, serving as a hub for trade and commerce. As a result, a significant number of African-Americans were brought to the region as enslaved individuals to work on the plantations surrounding the city.


However, despite the harsh conditions of slavery, African-Americans in Savannah managed to create vibrant communities and establish their own settlements. One such settlement was known as Yamacraw, founded by African chief Tomochichi and English colonist James Oglethorpe in 1733.


Yamacraw served as a refuge for African-Americans seeking to escape the brutality of slavery and find freedom. It became a tight-knit community, with African-American families building homes, establishing businesses, and developing their own cultural traditions.


Another notable early African-American settlement was the historic neighborhood of Pin Point. Settled by freed slaves in the late 19th century, Pin Point became an important center for Gullah-Geechee culture, a unique blend of African and African-American traditions. Today, the Pin Point Heritage Museum stands as a testament to the contributions of this thriving community.


These early settlements were not without challenges. African-Americans faced discrimination, limited opportunities, and restrictions on their freedom. However, their resilience and determination allowed them to create thriving communities that laid the foundation for the African-American culture that flourishes in Savannah to this day.


As you walk the streets of Savannah, you can still find traces of these early settlements. The rich history and heritage of African-Americans can be seen in the architecture, the traditions, and the stories passed down through generations.


Savannah’s early African-American settlements serve as a testament to the strength and resilience of the community, and their contributions continue to shape the cultural fabric of this vibrant city.


Slavery and the Plantations

Slavery played a significant role in Savannah’s history, with the city serving as the center of the antebellum South’s plantation economy. The wealthy plantation owners relied heavily on the labor of enslaved African-Americans to cultivate crops such as rice, cotton, and tobacco.


The rice plantations in the areas surrounding Savannah were particularly profitable, leading to an increase in the demand for enslaved Africans with expertise in rice cultivation. Many of these enslaved individuals were forcibly transported from West Africa, bringing with them their knowledge of rice cultivation techniques.


While conditions varied among plantations, the daily lives of enslaved Africans in Savannah were marked by hardships, labor, and constant oppression. They were subjected to harsh working conditions, physical abuse, and familial separation. Yet, in the face of unimaginable adversity, African-Americans in Savannah found ways to preserve their cultural traditions and forge connections within their community.


One example of this resilience is found in the art of sweetgrass basket weaving. This skill, passed down through generations, originated from the weaving traditions of West Africa. Enslaved African women in Savannah continued this tradition, meticulously crafting beautiful baskets that served both functional and cultural purposes.


Today, sweetgrass baskets are cherished works of art, reflecting the rich heritage and talents of African-Americans in Savannah. Visitors can explore the history of sweetgrass basket weaving at the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Pavilion, where artisans continue to create these intricate works.


The legacy of slavery and the plantations in Savannah remains deeply ingrained in the city’s history. Many historic plantations, such as the Wormsloe Historic Site and the Owens-Thomas House, offer insights into the lives of plantation owners and the enslaved individuals who worked their land. These sites provide a sobering reminder of the horrors of slavery, while also highlighting the resilience and strength of the African-American community.


As we continue to explore the history of African-Americans in Savannah, it is important to acknowledge the pain and suffering endured during this period. By doing so, we can honor the resilience, achievements, and contributions of African-Americans in shaping both Savannah’s history and the broader narrative of the United States.


Historic African-American Churches

In Savannah, historic African-American churches stand as sacred and significant landmarks that embody the strength, faith, and community spirit of the African-American population. These churches served as more than just places of worship; they were centers of social and cultural activities, as well as hubs for organizing and advocating for civil rights.


One of the most prominent historic African-American churches in Savannah is the First African Baptist Church. Established in 1773, it is the oldest continuously operating African-American church in North America. The church holds a rich history, as it served as a refuge for runaway slaves during the Underground Railroad era. Additionally, it played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement and remains an active place of worship and community engagement.


Another notable African-American church in Savannah is the Second African Baptist Church. Founded in 1802, it became a center for education, providing opportunities for enslaved and free African-Americans to learn to read and write. The church’s beautiful architectural design, with its Gothic spires and stained glass windows, stands as a testament to the faith and resilience of its congregation.


These historic churches not only played a significant role in the spiritual lives of African-Americans but also provided a safe space for community gatherings, celebrations, and the sharing of culture. They served as platforms for important social and political discussions and were integral in the fight against racial inequality.


Visiting these churches today offers a glimpse into the rich history and enduring legacy of the African-American community in Savannah. The striking architecture, the powerful sermons, and the vibrant worship services capture the essence of the African-American experience and its impact on the city’s cultural identity.


Beyond their historical significance, these churches continue to actively serve their communities through outreach programs, educational initiatives, and community events. They provide a source of inspiration, hope, and unity for African-Americans in Savannah and beyond.


By preserving and honoring these historic African-American churches, Savannah showcases its commitment to acknowledging and celebrating the contributions of African-Americans in shaping the city’s history and culture.


The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction

The Civil War had a profound impact on Savannah and its African-American population. As a strategic port city, Savannah was a key target for Union forces, and control over the city shifted multiple times during the war.


Following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which declared enslaved individuals in Confederate territories to be free, many African-Americans in Savannah seized the opportunity to escape to Union-controlled areas and join the fight for emancipation.


After the war, during the period of Reconstruction, Savannah became a crucial center for political and social change. The Freedmen’s Bureau, established by the federal government, played a vital role in assisting newly freed African-Americans in their transition to freedom. It provided education, legal assistance, and aid in securing employment and housing.


Reconstruction also witnessed the establishment of African-American political organizations and the election of several African-Americans to public office. Individuals such as Tunis G. Campbell, who became one of the first African-American elected officials in the United States, worked to improve the lives and rights of African-Americans in Savannah.


However, the gains made during Reconstruction were short-lived. The rise of the Jim Crow era, marked by segregation and systemic racism, eroded many of the advances made by African-Americans in Savannah and throughout the South.


Despite these challenges, the spirit of resilience persisted within Savannah’s African-American community. Institutions like the Beach Institute, founded by Alfred Ely Beach, became central to educational opportunities for African-Americans in the city. It provided schooling, vocational training, and cultural activities, fostering a sense of pride and upliftment.


Today, the impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction can be seen in the struggle for civil rights and equality that followed. While progress has been made, Savannah’s African-American community continues to advocate for social justice and fight against the persistence of racial disparities.


As visitors explore Savannah, they can learn about the complex and layered history of the Civil War and Reconstruction through historical markers, museums, and guided tours. By understanding this transformative period, we gain a deeper appreciation for the resilience and determination of Savannah’s African-American community in the face of adversity.


Prominent African-American Figures in Savannah’s History

Savannah has been home to many remarkable African-American individuals who have left an indelible mark on the city’s history and contributed significantly to the advancement of civil rights and social change. Their achievements, courage, and leadership have paved the way for future generations.


One notable figure is W.W. Law, a prominent civil rights leader and historian. Law tirelessly fought for equality and justice, organizing protests, advocating for desegregation, and working to preserve African-American heritage. He played a pivotal role in the desegregation of public facilities, making significant strides in dismantling racial barriers in Savannah.


Another influential figure is Justine T. Jackson, the first African-American woman to be admitted to the Georgia State Bar. Jackson was a resilient advocate for racial justice, challenging segregation in public libraries and schools. Her groundbreaking legal work helped dismantle discriminatory practices, making her an inspiration to many aspiring African-American lawyers.


Albert Hazan, an esteemed businessman, made significant contributions to Savannah’s economic growth. As the owner of the Hazel & Company department stores, he employed and empowered many African-Americans in the city. Hazan was also known for his philanthropic efforts, supporting education and community development initiatives.


Clifford Hardwick, a renowned educator and mentor, dedicated his life to improving educational opportunities for African-Americans in Savannah. As the principal of Tompkins High School, he prioritized academic excellence and encouraged his students to defy societal stereotypes. Hardwick was instrumental in shaping the lives of countless young African-Americans in the city.


These are just a few examples of the numerous African-American figures who have shaped Savannah’s history. From civil rights activists and community leaders to educators and entrepreneurs, their resilience, vision, and determination have made lasting impact.


It is essential to recognize and celebrate the contributions of these individuals, as their stories inspire and motivate current and future generations. Their legacies continue to resonate in Savannah, reminding us of the progress made and the work that still lies ahead in the pursuit of equality and social justice.


The Civil Rights Movement in Savannah

The Civil Rights Movement had a profound impact on Savannah, as African-Americans joined forces to fight against racial discrimination and advocate for equal rights. The city became a significant battleground in the struggle for civil rights in the South.


One pivotal moment in Savannah’s Civil Rights Movement was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin and paved the way for desegregation and equal access to public facilities.


Local leaders in Savannah, such as W.W. Law, played a critical role in organizing peaceful protests, sit-ins, and economic boycotts to combat racial inequality. They called for the integration of public spaces, including restaurants, theaters, and recreational areas.


The movement also brought attention to voting rights as African-Americans faced systemic barriers to exercising their right to vote. With the help of organizations like the Savannah Branch of the NAACP and community activists, voter registration drives and voter education initiatives were launched to address these inequalities.


One significant event that occurred in Savannah during the Civil Rights Movement was the peaceful protest known as the “Savannah Sit-Ins” in 1960. African-American college students staged sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in downtown stores, demanding equal treatment. These sit-ins sparked national attention and led to negotiations with city leaders to desegregate public facilities.


Through the collective efforts of local activists and national organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Savannah began to witness the dismantling of segregation policies, the establishment of fair employment practices, and increased opportunities for African-Americans in education and politics.


While significant strides were made during the Civil Rights Movement, the fight for racial equality in Savannah continues. Today, the city celebrates its diverse community and commemorates the sacrifices made by those who fought for justice and equality.


Visitors to Savannah can explore the city’s rich Civil Rights history through exhibits at the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum and by walking the historic streets that witnessed pivotal moments in the struggle for equality. These sites serve as a reminder of the courage, determination, and resilience of those who fought for civil rights in Savannah and inspire generations to work towards a more inclusive and just society.


Cultural Landmarks and Museums Celebrating African-American History

Savannah is home to several cultural landmarks and museums that celebrate African-American history and provide insight into the rich heritage and contributions of the African-American community. These institutions play a crucial role in preserving and showcasing the diverse cultural tapestry of the city.


The Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum stands as a prominent tribute to the struggle for civil rights in Savannah. Named after the influential civil rights leader, the museum documents the history of the Civil Rights Movement in Savannah through engaging exhibits, interactive displays, and oral histories. Visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by African-Americans and the progress made towards equality.


The Beach Institute is another significant cultural landmark that embodies the spirit of African-American heritage. Built in 1867 as a school for newly freed African-Americans, it now serves as a museum and art gallery. The Beach Institute showcases art exhibitions, educational programs, and community events that celebrate the contributions of African-Americans to art, culture, and history.


Savannah’s African-American history can also be explored through guided walking tours that highlight the significant sites and stories associated with the African-American experience. These tours, led by knowledgeable guides, provide a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the historical context and gain a deeper appreciation for the contributions of African-Americans in shaping the city’s identity.


Furthermore, the King-Tisdell Cottage Foundation’s African American Slave Dwelling Museum offers a powerful glimpse into the experience of enslaved African-Americans in Savannah. Visitors can explore the preserved slave quarters, hear the stories of those who lived there, and gain insights into the hardships and resilience of the enslaved community.


Visiting these cultural landmarks and museums allows individuals to engage with and learn from the past, fostering a greater appreciation for the contributions and struggles of African-Americans in Savannah. These institutions serve as powerful reminders of the importance of preserving history, promoting inclusivity, and advocating for social justice.


Through these cultural landmarks and museums, Savannah honors the legacy of African-Americans and ensures that their stories are remembered and shared with future generations. By embracing the city’s diverse history, Savannah embraces a more comprehensive and inclusive narrative that celebrates the rich cultural heritage of all its residents.


Savannah’s African-American Cuisine and Music

The African-American community in Savannah has made significant contributions to the city’s culinary and musical landscape, infusing their heritage and creativity into these vibrant art forms.


African-American cuisine in Savannah is a delicious fusion of traditional Southern flavors and West African influences. Dishes like gumbo, collard greens, fried chicken, and cornbread evoke a sense of comfort and nostalgia. One iconic Savannah dish is the Lowcountry boil, a hearty seafood boil featuring shrimp, sausage, corn, and potatoes, bursting with flavors that reflect the region’s coastal heritage.


When it comes to music, Savannah boasts a rich African-American musical heritage. The city has nurtured and produced talented musicians across various genres, including jazz, blues, and gospel.


Jazz music holds a special place in Savannah’s musical history. The city’s lively jazz scene, particularly in the historic district, pays homage to the contributions of African-American musicians who shaped the genre. Visitors can immerse themselves in the soulful sounds of jazz by attending live performances at renowned venues like the Savannah Jazz Festival or the historic Lucas Theatre for the Arts.


Gospel music is also deeply rooted in Savannah’s African-American culture. The passionate and soul-stirring rhythms of gospel music can be experienced firsthand by attending worship services at historically significant African-American churches or attending gospel music performances held throughout the city.


Moreover, Savannah’s African-American community has played a significant role in shaping the city’s annual music festivals. Events like the Savannah Music Festival celebrate diverse musical genres, including African-American styles such as blues and R&B. These festivals provide a platform for both established and up-and-coming African-American musicians to showcase their talents and connect with a broader audience.


Exploring Savannah’s African-American cuisine and music not only tantalizes the taste buds and uplifts the soul but also offers a unique opportunity to appreciate the cultural heritage and contributions of the African-American community. These culinary and musical traditions continue to be passed down through generations, keeping Savannah’s African-American cultural heritage alive and thriving.


By indulging in Savannah’s African-American cuisine and immersing ourselves in its rich musical tapestry, we pay homage to the creativity, talent, and resilience of the African-American community while experiencing the flavors and rhythms that have helped shape the city’s identity.



Savannah, Georgia is undeniably a city enriched with African-American history, culture, and contributions. From its early African-American settlements to the influential figures of the Civil Rights Movement, Savannah has been a crucial center for the African-American experience in the United States.


Exploring Savannah’s African-American history allows us to reflect on the resilience, strength, and achievements of the community in the face of adversity. It reminds us of the ongoing struggles for equality, justice, and the importance of preserving and celebrating diverse narratives.


Through historic landmarks, museums, cultural institutions, and vibrant music and cuisine, Savannah offers a profound and immersive experience into the African-American heritage. From the iconic African-American churches to the gripping stories of the Civil Rights Movement, visitors can witness firsthand the impact and legacy of African-Americans in shaping the fabric of Savannah.


By engaging with the historical significance, artistic expressions, and culinary traditions, we honor the contributions and sacrifices of African-Americans who have helped make Savannah the culturally rich and diverse city it is today.


As we walk the streets of Savannah, we know that its history extends far beyond its picturesque beauty and southern charm. The stories of African-Americans resonate in every corner, reminding us of the power of resilience, the fight for equality, and the celebration of diversity.


Savannah’s African-American history teaches us valuable lessons about the strength of community, the importance of inclusion, and the power of collective voice. It is through understanding and appreciating this history that we can continue the journey towards a more just and equitable society.


As visitors and residents, let us embrace the beauty of Savannah’s African-American heritage, celebrate the achievements of its people, and cherish the cultural traditions that make this city a true testament to the indomitable spirit of African-Americans throughout history.