Discover Savannah’s hidden Black history through the eyes of civil rights leader W.W. Law

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The life and legacy of renowned Savannah civil rights leader W.W. Law is on display at the Massie Heritage Center downtown.

The exhibit centers around Law’s push to create his acclaimed Savannah Negro Heritage Trail, consisting of 32 historic sites.

What made his walking tour unique was the history of Savannah being told from a Black perspective, while simultaneously highlighting typically overlooked Black contributions to the community.

Curator Steven Smith from Massie says Law’s motivation to start the trail in the 1970s was to, for the first time, recognize the African Americans and enslaved people who contributed to Savannah’s history.

“W.W. Law realized that knowledge of one’s history and heritage is a form of empowerment, and that’s why he wanted to put together this trail and teach landmark sites from the Black perspective,” he said.

A map of W.W. Law’s Negro Heritage Trail, which gained national attention in the 1970s and 1980s.

The exhibit in the center has a number of pieces about Law from the city archives.

Included in the exhibit is a timeline of the development of the trail, as well as numerous hand-written notes from Law piecing together his tour.

Visitors can also see his desk, where he wrote notes about the more than 30 stops on his tour.

Heritage Specialist Ayela Khuhro says she’s fascinated by Law’s work because a lot of it highlights the hidden historical gems all around us.

“He highlighted a lot of hidden histories, a lot of unique histories that otherwise would’ve been overshadowed,” she said.

Among them is a brick along a sidewalk on Abercorn Street between Lafayette and Calhoun squares.

Many of the bricks that make up historic homes, sidewalks and squares downtown were made by slaves at a plantation along the Savannah River, where International Paper Company is currently located.

In one of the bricks, four fingerprints can be seen, which curators believe are from a slave.

Smith says those who participate in the trail always are amazed by the simplest details and how they changed history, like the cotton gin.

“There’s a lot of really unique and interesting details that we offer along this tour that people find fascinating,” he said.

Khuhro shared the story of Mosianna Milledge, who was a cook for Juliette Gordon Low and her husband.

Milledge was a formerly enslaved African American who continued to work for the Low family after she was freed.

She traveled with Juliette Low to England, where she rose to fame for introducing southern cooking to the British aristocracy in the 1890s.

“In the words of Rosa Lewis, who was a famous British cook, ‘Before Mosianna came to England, the English had no idea that a chicken could be fried,'” Khuhro said.

The impact of people like Milledge and many others throughout Savannah’s history is what the staff at Massie say makes Law’s tour memorable and special.

The walking tours run until March 8, Monday through Friday at 2 p.m., from the Massie Heritage Center.

The cost for the tour is $10 per person.

For more information, visit massieschool.com, email steve.smith@sccpss.com or call 912-395-5070.

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