‘A somber moment’: Historic Savannah church being demolished

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – A church that’s been standing in Savannah since the late 1800s is now being demolished.

It’s Bethel A.M.E. Church on East Broad Street, just outside of Savannah’s historic district.

Leaders with the Historic Savannah Foundation said they were frustrated and saddened when they found out the church is being torn down.

“What this represents is just the erasure of African-American history in a rapidly developing Savannah,” said Ryan Arvay, director of preservation and historic properties.

Arvay said the organization was aware of the building, but they were unaware about its code violations and planned demolition. Code compliance gave the owner two options: repair the building or tear it down.

The church sits a block outside of the city’s historic district. Arvay argues if it was located just a block over, it would have been protected.

“What this whole thing does is it raises a bigger question about what in Savannah deserves to be preserved,” he said. “This building, just by virtue of where it was located, was deemed not important. And of course that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Historians believe Bethel A.M.E. played a role in Savannah’s Civil Rights Movement in the ’50s and ’60s.

“Its history not only within the African-American community but perhaps the greater Civil Rights history is gone now,” Arvay said.

Seeing the mound of wood and bricks hits home for those who once found solace inside the four walls of the church.

Among them, State Senator Lester Jackson – who first walked into Bethel A.M.E. at 12 years old.

“This is a somber moment for many of us because we’re not only losing its structure, we’re losing a part of history,” Jackson said.

It was where Sen. Jackson attended his first political meeting and joined Cub Scouts. He said everyone in the community knew it as a place to not just worship, but to envision the future of the city.

“If we continue to tear down significant African-American cultural centers we lose our own history – and that hurts the entire community,” Jackson said.

Arvay said if the historic foundation knew about the demolition plans, they could have stepped in to help find another solution.

A spokesperson for the city said the land is privately-owned.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories