SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The City of Savannah’s Municipal Archives, in partnership with Georgia Southern University, opened the new online exhibit Jim Crow in Savannah’s Parks, looking into how Savannah denied black people access to the best public parks and recreational facilities, and how black taxpayers paid for a superior park system for whites. 

Prepared by Jeffrey M. Ofgang, an intern with the City of Savannah’s Municipal Archives, and in fulfillment of a Public History Graduate Certificate from Georgia Southern University, the exhibit features resources from the City of Savannah’s Municipal Archives, including the papers of NAACP President W. W. Law, speeches by Mayor Malcolm Maclean, minutes of the Park and Tree Commission, the Savannah City Code, and facility plans from the Public Works and Engineering departments.

“Savannah had a well deserved reputation in the Jim Crow era as more progressive on race than other southern cities. It mostly avoided the violent reaction to integration elsewhere in the South, but many Savannahians suffered under Jim Crow discrimination until the Civil Rights era in the 1960s,” said Ofgang. Hungry for History: Jim Crow in Savannah’s Parks – YouTube

W.W. Law led the Savannah NAACP’s project to rehabilitate the neglected black portion of Laurel Grove Cemetery in the 1970’s. Photo courtesy of Savannah Municipal Archives.

“I think it is important for us to examine and learn our history in order for us to understand how we got to our present and our current conditions, and to help us make educated and informed decisions now that will move us forward into a better future as a community,” said Savannah Municipal Archives Director Luciana M. Spracher, C.A.

Topics in the exhibit include cemeteries, parks, playgrounds, pools, and sports. Visitors can simply click on the links of each topic to explore history such as the city establishing Laurel Grove Cemetery in 1852 and explicitly divided it in sections by race.

Through the exhibit, visitors can also learn about the city of Savannah opening its first municipal swimming area in September 1921. There is information about the eight-acre Daffin Park Lake which included an intricate pavilion and bathhouse. According to the exhibit, the lake was built with convict laborers, who were often Black men arrested for petty offenses.

Courtesy of City of Savannah Municipal Archives on behalf of V. & J. Duncan Antique Maps & Prints

Viewers can also learn how former NAACP President W.W. Law helped to organize the sit-ins and boycotts leading to the desegregation of downtown businesses. The exhibit gives information about how Law led the boycott of the segregated Grayson Stadium in 1962 and how he was instrumental in the “wade-in” protests at the segregated beaches on Tybee Island and in the fight to desegregate Jekyll Island State Park.

Savannah Senators, a minor-league baseball team in 1968-69. Photo courtesy of Savannah Municipal Archives.

“I think it is important for us to examine and learn our history in order for us to understand how we got to our present and our current conditions, and to help us make educated and informed decisions now that will move us forward into a better future as a community,” said Spracher.

The exhibit has garnered plenty of discussions, brought back memories and helped in answering questions that some may have been afraid to ask.

“We have gotten great feedback on the exhibit, with people reaching out saying that they remember this as a child, not being able to understand why they couldn’t use certain parks, or why they were allowed in parks that others weren’t allowed to play in, as well as people new to Savannah telling us it is helping them to understand the history of the South and Savannah better and is totally eye-opening and sobering to them. I think we all benefit from continual education and learning from those who struggled and paved the way before us to make our community better and more inclusive,” said Spracher.

To view the online exhibit, visit Home – Jim Crow in Savannah’s Parks in the 20th Century presented by Jeffrey M. Ofgang – Library Guides at Georgia Southern University (libguides.com)

For more information about Savannah’s Municipal Archives services visit Municipal Archives | Savannah, GA – Official Website (savannahga.gov)