Longtime public servant laid to rest in Savannah

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – A dedicated public servant was laid to rest Monday after family members, city leaders and colleagues gathered together to mourn and reflect on the life of 94-year-old James B. Blackburn.

Blackburn — who many called J.B. or Jimmy — told his two sons that he wanted a simple goodbye, though he could have been buried with military or Masonic honors. Blackburn enlisted himself in the Navy when he was 18 years old. A funeral program says he was a 32nd-degree mason.

A simple service at Ardsley Park Baptist Church — with flowers over his coffin and his extended family in the front row — sufficed for the man who did not crave labels.

Blackburn taught Sunday school at Ardsley Park Baptist Church where he always preached to “love thy neighbor.”

“High standards are what J.B focused on,” said his son, John Blackburn, of his upbringing. “Loving your mother was one of the first.”

“Neither one of us knows a time when [Blackburn] said ‘I love you,'” said Blackburn’s other son, James Blackburn Jr. “He demonstrated he loved us by the way he did other things.”

J.B. earned several recognitions for his professional career as Savannah City Attorney for nearly fifty years: an NAACP Freedom Award, the Savannah Bar Association’s Robbie E. Robbinson Award, and induction into the Georgia Municipal Association’s Hall of Fame.

Blackburn was known for his involvement in desegregating Savannah long before the civil rights movement. His experience earned him an encyclopedia-like mind and a following of young lawyers who admired him for his commitment to education.

“He taught me how to be professional, how to study the law and how to do things the right way. And that was really the overriding thing of J.B. Blackburn’s life: do the right thing,” said Patrick O’Connor, who added Blackburn was a spiritual leader, in addition to a professional one.

“He checked off all the boxes for an extraordinary life,” said Savannah Mayor Van Johnson. “I had the opportunity to know the legend of Jimmy Blackburn long before I met the man.”

Blackburn’s last public appearance was Mayor Johnson’s inauguration. The Mayor says he was honored to host Savannah’s ‘greatest unsung legend’ and remembers Blackburn telling him that ‘he could do this.’

Blackburn retired from the public sphere in 2012 when he was 86-years-old. Officials say his push for equality and integrity lives on at city hall.

“He kept it straight. If you followed his path, you would be alright,” said former Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson.

Blackburn was laid to rest at Bonaventure Cemetary. He is survived by Mercer Blackburn, his wife of 72-years, two sons, six grandchildren, a daughter-in-law and a sister-in-law.

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