AAA Travel Tips / Savannah's African American Heritage

Savannah's African American Heritage

AAA/Sherry Mims
By AAA Travel Editor Sherry Mims
July 09, 2019
While visiting Savannah, be sure to learn about the city’s deep African American heritage. A number of structures and monuments testify to the community’s resilience, and they’re among the many interesting things to do in Savannah.
This monument by the Hyatt on River Street features a family freed after emancipation. It was designed by Professor Dorothy Spradley of and student Dan Koster of Savannah College of Art and Design.
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African-American Monument
Rousakis Plaza and River Street
This poignant tribute in front of the Hyatt hotel on River Street features a family—newly freed after emancipation with the chains of slavery at their feet. You can visit it next to the Savannah River and ponder the poem by Maya Angelou that’s inscribed in the 2002 sculpture. It was designed by Professor Dorothy Spradley of Savannah College of Art and Design with assistance from student Dan Koster.
The First African Baptist Church, detailed in this sign, is an important part of Savannah's history and is the oldest "black church in North America."
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First African Baptist Church
23 Montgomery St.
(912) 233-6597
Said to be the “oldest black church in North America,” this congregation formed in 1773. The founding pastor, the Rev. George Leile, joined others who left during the British evacuation of the city of Savannah in 1782 rather than risk enslavement again. The current sanctuary was built circa 1859 and offers guided tours.
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This 1819 Regency manor was designed by William Jay. It features the only intact slave quarters in the city and is said to contain the largest example of haint blue coloring.
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Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters
124 Abercorn St.
(912) 790-8800
The ornate mansion and grounds provide a sobering reminder that the South, including this estate, ran on the forced labor of enslaved people. The original slave quarters—the ceiling painted a bright shade of blue called “haint blue” to keep away evil spirits—is said to be the largest example of such painting. The tour for the estate starts there, and you’ll be able to read more about Savannah’s past and current African American history, including the role of the church and the civil rights movement.
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Red bar stools at a diner counter
iStockphoto.com/Thomas Demarczyk
Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum
460 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
(912) 777-6099
Inside a former African American bank, this museum features photos, exhibits and a re-creation of a storeroom, where African Americans could shop but not dine next door. It’s named after a pastor of the First African Baptist Church and NAACP president, who participated in the civil rights movement and raised funds to commemorate the struggle for equality.
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Many Savannah tours, including the Freedom Trail Tour, depart from outside the Savannah Visitor Information Center.
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Tours of Savannah
Tours, including The Freedom Trail Tour, depart from the Savannah Visitor Center at 301 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
(912) 398-2785 for The Freedom Trail Tour
Several Savannah tours offer background on one of Georgia’s oldest communities of African Americans. The Freedom Trail Tour, for example, starts from outside the Savannah Visitor Information Center and includes destinations such as the First African Baptist Church and the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum. However, first check with the specific company since things to see on their itineraries may vary.
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