Community leaders ask Tybee Island to ‘tell the whole story’ of racial history

Local News

TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) – Some residents on Tybee Island are demanding the City accurately depict the island’s racial history.

Pat Leiby and Julia Pearce of the Tybee MLK Human Rights Organization have been advocating for these changes after organizing protests on the island following the death of George Floyd.

“There was a time when Black people weren’t allowed to come out here to Savannah’s beach,” said Leiby. “We just want that story to be told.”

The organization wants the City Council to implement a few changes that they feel paints a more accurate picture of Tybee’s racial history.

These are the points the organization hopes City Council will approve.

A quest for context and clarity

Leiby, a New Jersey native and a former Maryland resident, says she was incredibly angry after Floyd’s death. She knew she had to do something, so she decided to organize a protest on the island.

Now, she’s demanding for more historic markers to commemorate key events in the racial history on the island as well as Tybee’s recognition of Juneteenth as a holiday.

One change she wants to see is on the Lazaretto Creek historic marker which refers to African slaves as “voyagers.”

“These voyagers were kidnapped Africans brought here to be sold into slavery,” said Leiby. “The term voyagers makes them sound like they were on a pleasure cruise.”

Pearce, the coordinator of Tybee MLK, says now is the time for the City to recognize its history.

“We get stronger with knowledge, we grow with knowledge and vision perishes in darkness,” said Pearce.

A council discussion

Tybee MLK brought their issues to the attention of Council Member Nancy DeVetter, in hopes that the City would begin a process of making these changes.

DeVetter says fighting for race equity is her life’s work.

“I’m an attorney for low-income people and seeing race equity issues and responding to those has been part of my day job for years,” said DeVetter.

She brought up the resolution for discussion during the Tybee Island City Council meeting on June 25.

The resolution has not yet been formally introduced, but DeVetter says it was important for her to start a discussion about it with her fellow council members.

During the meeting, however, many of the council members expressed their concerns with the language of the proposed resolution.

“All lives matter to me,” said Council Member Barry Brown. “People of color have always been treated as equal on Tybee Island. Now, if you got some proof that tells me they have not been treated that way, I would like to hear it.”

Earlier this week, Savannah historian and activist Dr. Jamal Toure was confronted by police while recording cell phone video on the beach, asking for people to share their history of the island.

Toure says a false complaint was made about him cursing on the beach. He explained the situation to officers and they left without incident.

The full discussion of the resolution from the City Council meeting is below.

Next steps

DeVetter hopes to have a virtual town hall next week with citizens to discuss the resolution further.

The next council meeting is on July 9 at 6:30 p.m. at the Burke Day Public Safety Building.

Even though the future of this resolution isn’t clear, Pearce says she still has hope.

“There is no progress without struggle. That’s what Frederick Douglas said. There is none,” said Pearce. “So we have to progress, but it is a struggle.”

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