SAVANNAH – In front of hundreds of people between Taylor Street and Gordon Street, Mayor Van Johnson II proclaimed, “Welcome to Savannah,” and what he said next drew thunderous applause.
“And Susie King Taylor Square,” the mayor of the Hostess City shouted.
Once known as Calhoun Square, in honor of the late U.S. Senator and vice president John C. Calhoun, the square along Abercorn Street bordered by Taylor and Gordon now bears the name of a Black woman born into slavery in Liberty County. It is the first of Savannah’s fabled squares to be named after either a woman or a Black person.
“To my unbounded joy, you did it Savannah!” exclaimed Hermina Glass-Hill, director of the Susie King Taylor Women’s Institute and Ecology Center. “This moment is the prophetic perfect, because Susie King Taylor longed for this moment.”
Taylor is the author of the only known Civil War memoir penned by a Black woman, “Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops, Late 1st S.C. Volunteers,” published in 1902.
Born on what is now Isle of Wight, Taylor moved to Savannah when she was 7 years old to live with her grandmother. The young Taylor learned to read and write in two secret schools – it was illegal for Blacks to learn how to read and write – in Savannah. She fled to Union-occupied St. Simons Island in April 1862. There, she set up a school and became the first Black to openly teach other Blacks in Georgia.
After marrying a Black Union officer, she became a laundress, nurse and teacher for soldiers in her husband’s regiment. After the war, she started a school in Savannah for freedmen’s children.
Taylor spent the later years of her life in Boston and died in October 1912.
Savannah City Council members voted a year and a half ago to strip Calhoun’s name from the square. Calhoun had been a slave owner and a staunch defender of slavery and states’ rights. He died in 1850.
The city accepted nominations for the square’s new name, and Taylor’s name was submitted. Patt Gunn and the Susie King Taylor Center for Jubilee in Savannah lobbied to get the square renamed for Taylor.
“There was a clear and present choice for whom we should honor on this square,” City Manager Joseph Melder said.
Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette noted Liberty’s history, which includes two signers of the Declaration of Independence and currently the 3rd Infantry Division. The county’s history includes being a focal point of the Civil Rights movement as home to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he worked on Project C, the push to integrate Birmingham, Alabama.
“Do you know my people?” Lovette asked. “We have gathered in Savannah to lift up one of our own. I am Liberty County proud to be here. I stand on the shoulders of so many who paved the way for this day. Do you know Susie Baker King Taylor? Call her name, and she will live forever.”
Mayor Johnson also lobbied to have the former name of the square placed on a marker that also details why the city chose to change the square’s name.
“I can assure that this revolution of unity in the City of Savannah community is one that would certainly make her proud,” Glass-Hill said, adding the renaming of the square is “a history-making moment.”
For more, see the February 15 edition of the Coastal Courier or return to www.coastalcourier.com.