SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — All this month WSAV has honored Black history, but not everyone who makes history is remembered. Such is the case of former state representative Bobby Hill.
Those who knew him, say he was ‘brilliant’ and ‘ahead of his time’.
But who was Bobby Hill and why has his legacy seemingly drifted into obscurity?
He was the first Black state representative from Chatham County since Reconstruction, yet today few people recognize the name, Bobby Lee Hill.
Last September, the Interstate 16-516 interchange was dedicated in his honor, more than two decades after his death. The result of a House resolution sponsored by Rep. Carl Gilliard.
“I came by there the other day and it was with a great deal of pride when I saw that as I left 204 to get on 16,” Gilliard said. “I said, “Hey, he’s resurrected.” And now people will ask, “Who was Bobby Hill?” Simply because his name is now on that overpass.”
Hill was known for his skills as an orator, a trial lawyer, and a champion for civil rights.
In fact, he played a vital role in the complete desegregation of the local public school system when he represented a group of Black students in 1971, a move that landed him in jail.
Mr. Hill was frisked, handcuffed, and taken to the county jail. And he is largely at this moment. Now we have a motion for an appeal bond presently pending before the judge, Judge Victor E. Mullins, who cited him for contempt.
Born in Tignall, Ga, Hill moved to Savannah to attend college. That’s where former Mayor Dr. Otis Johnson met him — an encounter he says ultimately changed the course of his life.
“Hill was the big man on campus. He was involved in the student government association and he was involved in the college chapter of the NAACP and that was during the height of the civil rights movement in Savannah,” Johnson said. “I came to know him better in the spring of 1963 when we had a boycott on the campus and I was a part of that action.”
Hill, a senior, asked freshmen and sophomore students to fill out applications to transfer to Armstrong to put pressure on administrators to meet their demands.
“It was at least 50 of us who came over to Armstrong. Picked up applications to transfer and unbeknownst to me, I was the only student who turned my application in to transfer,” Johnson said. “And so I attribute that uprising under the leadership of Hill, Brown, Quilloin, and Mary Moss as the motivating factor of me ending up being the first African American to attend Armstrong.”
After graduating from Savannah State in 1963, Hill earned his law degree from Howard University and joined the bar in 1967.
A year later, he was elected to the State House. He held his seat for 14 years before being defeated.
“His life began to take a downward spiral and eventually he was disbarred,” Johnson said. “He had an Achilles heel and it brought him down and besmirched his career at the time.”
He says, he hopes history won’t erase Bobby Hill’s legacy — but that his many accomplishments will overshadow his faults.
“American history is both sad and salutary. And to not deal with the sad or the evil parts of this history is to do history a disservice,” Johnson said.
Among his accomplishments, Hill was listed in who’s who among African Americans.
He was ‘past president’ of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials and was named legislator of the year by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Hill died of cancer in 2000 at the age of 59.