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Unsung black history icon may be honored

Black History Month

POSTED: February 27, 2009 9:20 a.m.
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Susie King Taylor

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Ask someone about Susie King Taylor and you usually get a blank stare.
“She is an unsung hero, a nationally known unsung hero,” Donald Lovette of Love-It Productions said.
Her life-story is a tale of bravery, creativity, as well as black and national history, according to Lovette, that first began here in Liberty County.  
Born a slave on Aug. 16, 1848, at the Grest Farm on the Isle of Wight to Raymond and Hagar Ann Baker, Taylor seemed to be pre-destined to live a desolate life.
But when she was only 7 her owner, Mr. Grest, allowed her and her two siblings to live with her grandmother Dolly Reed, a free black living in Savannah.
It was there she attended a school for African-American children operating secretly. She learned to read and write under the instruction of teachers, both black and white.
“We went every day about 9 o’clock, with our books wrapped in paper to prevent the police or white persons from seeing them. We went in, one at a time, through the gate, into the yard to the L Kitchen, which was the schoolroom,” Taylor said in her memoir titled “Reminiscences” published in 1902.
By the time the Union Army made its way to Savannah during the Civil War, Taylor, then 14, educated and free, had made her way back to the coast.
On St. Simon’s Island, she joined a small band of African-American soldiers who later became known as the “1st South Carolina Volunteers,” the first black regiment organized to fight for the Union.
She became their nurse and within days her educational advances grabbed the attention of officers, who offered to obtain books if she would organize a school.
She opened three schools before she died in 1912. One of the schools was in Liberty County.
“She was a woman really ahead of her time as far as getting an education and doing something with it is concerned,” said Meredith Devendorf, vice chairwoman of the Liberty County Cultural and Historic Resources Committee.  “Basically, whatever she put her hands to, she was successful.
“Those accomplishments are even greater in light of the obstacles she had to overcome to get there.”
Lovette believes Taylor’s achievements have gone
unnoticed in Liberty County for a lot of reason, primarily because she was black and
a Southern woman who served with the Union, instead of the Confederate Army.
It is time for that to change, he said.
“How can you have somebody labeled as America’s first black Civil War nurse and very few people know of her?” he said.
Lovette said he is planning to suggest that the Liberty County School Board name a school after Taylor.
He has also created a character of her in his upcoming play, “Tell Them So They Will Know.”
The play is scheduled for March 14 at Full Gospel Tabernacle Church of God and Christ.
“She deserves recognition,” Lovette said. “She gave her all … she served for the betterment of America, not just the Union Army or African-American slaves, but she wanted to see a better America.”
Devendorf said recognition of Taylor should live beyond the 28 days of Black History Month.
“In the South we don’t have a black history and a white history, we have a history and we share it,” she said. “Someone like a Susie King Taylor is representative of that history and we should be thinking about that all the time.”
 

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