The Susie King Taylor Women’s Institute and Ecology Center in Midway awarded Liberty County High School honors graduate Tamia Thomas the 2023 Susie King Taylor Cultural Heritage Education Scholarship. Thomas’ essay on Susie King Taylor was selected among several submissions in which applicants were asked to describe the escaped freedom seeker’s significance in American history.
The college-bound Thomas wrote, “By her actions, Ms. Taylor has given many men, women, and children the determination and strength to pursue their hopes and dreams. This includes me as her impact affects me, my friends, and my family today as we live in her hometown near Grest Island. Her actions also played a major role in the environment all around me. Being one of the first African American-Gullah Geechee nurses during the Civil War as well as an educator, specifically to former enslaved people in Midway, Savannah, and South Carolina, Ms. Taylor’s impact should never be forgotten as Georgia and the United States would not be what they are today without her efforts.”
Thomas will be attending Augusta University in the fall and her plans are to major in social work. In 2019 another Liberty County High School graduate, Quinton Xavier Johnson, was the first recipient of the award. He is a recent graduate of Middle Georgia State University where he earned a bachelor of science in sports management.
The $1,000 Susie King Taylor Cultural Heritage Education Scholarship was established in 2019 by historian and biographer Hermina Glass-Hill and her husband, founders of the Susie King Taylor Women’s Institute and Ecology Center in Midway, the place where young Susie Baker King Taylor was born enslaved on a plantation on Grest Island (Midway).
Taylor’s life is exceptional for several reasons. She was literate at a time in history when it was against the law for slaves to read and write, she resisted the institution of slavery by running away, and later she became an educator during the Civil War. Born on August 6, 1848 in rural Liberty County, Taylor’s slaveowner Valentine Grest could fetch a handsome profit by “hiring out” her grandmother, a 7-year-old Susie, and her two siblings in an urban slavery environment such as Savannah’s Bay Street. It was her grandmother who secretly arranged for Susie to attend the underground bucket schools in the city. According to Susie King Taylor’s autobiography, “Reminiscences of My Life in Camp,” when the war broke out in 1861, she was returned to her family on Grest Island where she escaped in 1862 when Union forces overtook Fort Pulaski. She was rescued on St. Catherines Island.
Susie King Taylor’s secret education in antebellum Savannah proved to be beneficial to other runaway freedom seekers during the war. Sanctioned by the Union Navy to teach in the contraband camp on St. Simons Island, she was, in essence, Georgia’s first federally funded school teacher. After the war, she opened two schools in Savannah and one in Midway.
“Susie King Taylor’s 175th birthday is August 6, and we will be celebrating it soon. But this scholarship award is the beginning of the party before Miss Thomas heads off to college,” saud Hermina Glass-Hill, the premier scholar on Susie King Taylor and former associate director of Kennesaw State University’s Center for the Study of the Civil War. “It is an honor to continue Susie King Taylor’s legacy by investing in the education of young scholars. Using my historical and ancestral imagination, I think Mrs. Susie (Baker) King Taylor would be very proud of this moment.”
The Susie King Taylor Cultural Heritage Education Scholarship award ceremony took place on Monday, July 17, at 11 a.m. at Susie King Taylor Exhibit at the Liberty County Historical Society located at 100 S. Commerce St. in Hinesville. For more information about this event, email Glass-Hill at hermina@susiekingtaylor institute.org.