African-American Heritage Tour (Self Guided), Savannah

Savannah – whose African-American population makes up about 60 percent of total residents – is integral to a full understanding of the experience of African Americans in the South, including the great heritage they left in its culture, politics and art. Don't miss the chance to visit such significant places as the First African Baptist Church, the First Bryan Baptist Church, and the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum to learn more about the history of African-Americans, whose roots can be traced directly back to West Africa.
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African-American Heritage Tour Map

Guide Name: African-American Heritage Tour
Guide Location: USA » Savannah (See other walking tours in Savannah)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.4 Km or 2.7 Miles
Author: hollyg
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • The King-Tisdell Cottage
  • The Beach Institute
  • Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters
  • The African American Monument
  • Haitian Memorial Monument
  • First African Baptist Church
  • First Bryan Baptist Church
  • Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum
  • The Diaspora Marketplace
The King-Tisdell Cottage

1) The King-Tisdell Cottage

The King-Tisdell Cottage is owned and operated by the King-Tisdell Cottage Foundation. The Cottage serves as an African-American heritage and history museum named after its owners, Eugene and Sarah King, and Sarah King's second husband, Robert Tisdell.

The building is furnished in a style typical of a black residence in the 1890s. The cottage was originally built in another area in 1896 by W.W. Aimar, and features gingerbread-style adornment on the porch in a distinctive wheel and spindle pattern. It was threatened by demolition in 1970, but the City of Savannah and Historic Savannah Foundation managed to save the historic building, move it to its current location, and re-construct it.

The museum's exhibits demonstrate the history of Savannah and the Sea Islands, emphasizing the many ways that African-Americans have contributed to the area's history. One of the exhibits is particularly noteworthy- an original bill of sale for slaves, handwritten in Arabic by slaves on a plantation. Outside, the Cottage features the fountain “Free to Fly,” by famous sculptor Ivan Bailey, and a gas light dedicated to key civic leader Sadie Steele.
The Beach Institute

2) The Beach Institute

The Beach Institute was originally constructed in 1867 by the Freedmen's Bureau for the purpose of educating newly freed former slaves. It was named for the editor of The Scientific American, Alfred S. Beach, who was a major donor of the funds used to purchase the plot the Institute sits on.

Initially, the Institute has six hundred students, nine (primarily white) female teachers, and one male principal. The Beach Institute served as a school for freed slaves until 1875, when it was turned over to the Savannah Board of Education and became a free public school for African-American children. When other schools in the area opened and the Beach Institute was no longer needed, it was closed in 1919. Since then, it has been re-opened as an African-American cultural center and museum.

Works from Savannah-area African-American artists are on permanent display at the Beach Institute, including wood carvings from celebrated folk artists Ulysses Davis. Davis was a barber and self-taught sculptor, who made many of the tools he used to carve his artwork. Originally, his carvings were on display around the walls of his barber shop. Today, they're viewed by visitors from all over.

Hours: Tue - Sat: 12:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters

3) Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters (must see)

Built in 1819 to the design of William Jay, an Englishman counted among the first professionally-trained architects working in the US, it is considered the nation's preeminent example of English Regency architecture and was to be aesthetically compatible to Bath, England. This is evident in the Bath stone of the construction as well as the sophisticated architectural detail that added a gentrifying physical ornament to the then-newly successful Southern port. Although the old original Slave Quarters have little in them, one may see how the slaves tried to bring their culture/craft from Africa, in the blue paint they made for the ceiling, to represent water.

Finished in 1819 for Richard Richardson and his family, who earned their money as cotton merchants and bankers, the house is notable for its early cast iron side veranda with elaborate acanthus scroll supports on which the Marquis de Lafayette addressed the citizens of Savannah on his visit in 1825. The collection contains furnishings and decorative artwork from the English Regency period, including possessions of the Owens family that date from 1790 to 1840. It also includes English Georgian and American Federal period furniture, early Savannah textiles, silver, Chinese export porcelain and 18th- and 19th-century art. Apart from the main houses there is a carriage house, which also functioned as slave quarters – one of the earliest in existence – and feature slave artifacts of the period.

Why You Should Visit:
Beautiful home and furnishings, plus very knowledgeable tour guides; the history, culture, and social components are very well summarized/transmitted. The juxtaposition between the slave quarters and the home is truly staggering and you may leave with a better understanding of urban slavery. Plus, you can get a pass to also see the Jepson Art Center and the Telfair Musem of Art for one price of around $20 in the space of a week.

Tours go off every 15 minutes – try to go with a small group!

Opening Hours:
Sun, Mon: 12–5pm; Tue-Sat: 10am–5pm
The African American Monument

4) The African American Monument

The African-American Families Monument in River Street, Savannah pays homage to the city's African-American heritage. The bronze and granite statue depicts a family of four embracing after emancipation, facing towards the Savannah River and the west coast of Africa, the starting point of the slaves' journey. Inscribed with a moving quote, the controversial monument was designed by Savannah College of Art and Design Professor, Dorothy Spradley, and recognizes the contributions made by African Americans as well as symbolizes their new beginning in the Americas.
Haitian Memorial Monument

5) Haitian Memorial Monument

During the Revolutionary War, America and France united against the British. When the British occupied Savannah, Georgia, in 1779, the allied America and France launched an attack to take the city back.

A key part of the forces that fought in this attack were Haitians of African descent. After the unsuccessful attack was concluded, many of these soldiers were sent off to fight other battles. Not many returned, and those who did often didn't see their homes until years later. The soldiers who returned became instrumental in winning Haiti's independence.

Stories of the contribution of these Haitian soldiers to American independence isn't encountered very frequently in history books, but that doesn't make it any less significant. The unit of Haitian soldiers who fought in the American Revolution was “Les Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint Domingue” serving under Charles Henri d'Estaing, and was the largest unit of soldiers of African descent. All of the members were free men who volunteered to fight the British.

The Haitian Memorial Monument was sculpted by James Mastin. One of the figures, a drummer, is a sculpt of Henri Christophe. He was a key figure in the fight for Haitian independence, serving as commander of the Haitian army. After the war was won, he became the King of the newly-independent Haiti.
First African Baptist Church

6) First African Baptist Church (must see)

The First African Baptist Church of Savannah was a haven for runaway slaves during the turbulent years of the Civil War. The runaways were hidden in a four-foot high space between the basement and foundation below, with 'air holes' still visible in the basement floor – in lack of better knowledge, some might assume the holes are part of an artistic design.

During the 1960s, the church served as a base for the Civil Rights movement. Such is its glorious history, which dates to 1774 when George Liele – the first black man to be ordained by Baptists to preach in Georgia – began making missionary visits to plantations up and down the Savannah River. Formed by Liele in 1778, the First Colored Church of Savannah (renamed the First African Baptist Church in 1882) is the oldest continuously active African-American congregation in North America.

Located in Franklin Square, the present church was built by members of the congregation – among which many slaves who would make the bricks, lay the mortar, and carve the pews (still in use today) after laboring the fields all day. Note the beautiful stained glass windows depicting Liele and other early church leaders, installed in 1885. Today, the church houses a museum containing archives and memorabilia that date to the 18th century.

Why You Should Visit:
If you don't take the guided tour, you will be missing out on a huge core of Savannah's history. A tour here takes you through the main church, the upstairs, and the basement where you will learn about the role of the Underground Railroad.

Guided Tours:
Tue-Sat: 11am, 2pm, 4pm; Sun: 1pm
First Bryan Baptist Church

7) First Bryan Baptist Church

First Bryan Baptist Church has the distinction of being the oldest continually functioning Baptist church for African-Americans. It is based on a congregation that started in 1784, by Andrew Bryan, a member of George Leile's congregation.

The building was designed by John B. Hogg, and built between 1873-1888 on the site of the original church. It features stained glass windows that depict the church's founding members, including its first pastor, Andrew Bryan. Bryan was a Savannah slave who first organized the church in 1788. Later, in 1793, Bryan purchased both his freedom and the site of the church (formerly part of a Yamacraw Indian village) for thirty pounds. Two years after that, the first church building was built. In 1873, the first one was razed to make room for Hogg's design.

Bryan had a difficult time being a preacher. Before the church was built, he had to keep his congregation on the move. Many whites at the time viewed any gathering of slaves as a possible uprising, so Bryan was frequently imprisoned, and even beaten to punish him for preaching. Despite this, Bryan built his church and continued preaching until his death. Today, the First Bryan Baptist Church continues to serve the community as a place of worship for Savannah's Baptists.
Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum

8) Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum

Savannah, Georgia, is an area with a rich and fascinating history in the civil rights movement. This museum is named after Dr. Ralph Mark Gilbert, a major figure in Georgia's civil rights history, and pastor of the First African Baptist Church. In the year 1942, Gilbert organized Savannah's branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and has been referred to as the “father of Savannah's modern day Civil Rights Movement.”

The museum itself was built in 1914, and once served as the largest bank for African-Americans in its county, back when segregation governed virtually every public and private place in the deep South. After being a bank, it became the headquarters for Savannah's branch of the NAACP. Today, the museum houses historic photographs, art, and archives relating to Georgia's civil rights history. The first floor is created to be a replica of the luncheon in Levy's Department Store, a segregated lunch counter where one of the most famous sit-ins of the civil rights era occurred. In addition to the museum, the building also houses lecture halls, classrooms, and a library of African-American and civil rights books.

Consider taking the guided as it gives better insight in less time than trying to read through everything on your own.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sat: 10am–4pm
The Diaspora Marketplace

9) The Diaspora Marketplace

The Diaspora Marketplace is a store that sells wonderful authentic products from Africa, as well as items from the African Diaspora from all around the world. Original art prints, books, jewelry, wood carvings, furniture, musical instruments and much more awaits you at the Diaspora Marketplace.

Hours: Mon - Sat: 10:00 am - 6:00 pm

Walking Tours in Savannah, Georgia

Create Your Own Walk in Savannah

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River Street Sightseeing and Shopping

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.7 Km or 0.4 Miles
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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles
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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.7 Km or 2.3 Miles
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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.7 Km or 2.3 Miles
Savannah's Top Religious Sights

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles