Savannah’s Black Heritage

The trans-Atlantic slave trade brought millions of Africans to America with many passing through the port of Savannah forming the Geechee and Gullah cultures of the Atlantic coastal communities in Georgia and South Carolina. The slave trade in the South would lead to new social economic era where the color of one’s skin determined whether you lived your life enslaved or free. It would take three generations and a war between the states to bring an end to slavery in America.

Through the hardships of slavery and the fight for civil rights, Africans in Savannah founded their own churches, schools and communities. Savannah, Georgia’s oldest black community, is one of the most historically significant African-American cities in the nation. To sample the true soul of Savannah one must walk the city streets and squares and visit the many African-American owned and operated shops, restaurants and bed and breakfasts that uphold the traditions of our African roots.

Guests who come to our city are truly captivated by Savannah’s charm, its rich heritage and all the activities the city offers every day of the year. Come and experience the soul of Savannah were our heritage is celebrated.

The African-American Families Monument
Location: Savannah’s Historic River Street

Local artist and professor Dorothy Spradley created this larger-than-life, bronze-and-granite monument to African-American families, on Rousakis Plaza near the west end of River Street. It shows two adults and two children standing with broken chains at their feet. The base is inscribed with Maya Angelou’s words depicting the horrors of a slave ship voyage but ending on the note of hope.

Beach Institute
Location: 502 E. Harris Street
Contact: 912.234.8000

Established in 1865 by the American Missionary Association as a school for newly freed slaves, it is Georgia’s oldest continuous standing school for blacks. It features local and national art exhibits including a collection by renowned wood carver, Ulysses Davis. Davis’ complete work of wood carvings of the American presidents is on permanent display. The institute is under the operation of the King-Tisdell Cottage Foundation.

The Geechee Institute
Contact: 912.631.7761

The Geechee Institute is a cultural arts organization whose goal is to tell the history of the Geechee and Gullah people of Savannah and Coastal Georgia though oral traditions, lectures and tours. Call for appointments.

The King-Tisdell Cottage
Location: 514 E. Huntington St.
Phone: 912.234.8000

The cottage is an 1896 Victorian home named for local black citizens Eugene and Sarah King and Mrs. King’s second husband Robert Tisdell. Today the cottage serves as a cultural museum highlighting the contributions Africans have made to our nation’s history. The King-Tisdell Cottage houses a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, Field Order 15 providing 40 acres and a mule to freed blacks and an original slave bill of sale. The basement houses a collection of household items of the period including an operational music box dating back to the 1800s.

Massie Heritage Interpretation Center
Location: 207 East Gordon St.
Phone: 912.201.5070

Massie Common School House, named for the Scotsman who bequeath $5,000 for the purpose of educating poor children was opened in 1870. Public education continued at Massie until the occupation of Savannah by General William T. Sherman. During the spring and summer of 1865, Massie served as a school for black children under the order of General Sherman.

Owens-Thomas House Slave Quarters
Location: 124 Abercorn Street
Contact: 912. 233.9743

The Owens-Thomas House is considered the finest example of English Regency architecture in America by architectural historians. The home completed construction in 1819 and has one of the earliest intact slave quarters in the South. The walls of these quarters have retained the original furnishings and “haint-blue” paint made by the slaves who occupied the quarters.

The Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Right Museum
Location: 406 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
Contact: 912. 231.8900

The museum archives the struggle of Georgia’s oldest African-American community from slavery to the present. Guided and narrated tours through three floors of photographic and interactive exhibits chronicles the civil rights struggle in Savannah. Named in honor of Dr. Ralph Mark Gilbert, the father of the Savannah civil rights movement, the museum is located on Savannah’s historic Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Savannah State University
Location: LaRoach Avenue
Phone: 912. 356.2186

Savannah State University has been an institution of higher education for blacks in Southeast Georgia since its founding in 1890. Originally called the Georgia Industrial College for Colored Youths, the University was founded as a result of the Morrill Act of 1890. Savannah State is one of the original Negro land-grant colleges and is located on a 165-acre tract of rolling, beautifully landscaped grounds overlooking picturesque saltwater marshes. This historically black university was the first public institution of higher learning for blacks in the state of Georgia.

Yamacraw Public Art Park
Location: Yamacraw Square

Yamacraw Square is the first square to be dedicated to the African-American and American Indian history in Savannah’s Yamacraw area. The art represent the pride, cultural heritage and community spirit of the space.

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