SAVANNAH, Ga. — A new historic marker in Savannah harkens back to the Civil Rights era, recounting three local pioneers in the city and the nation’s struggle for racial equality.
The marker will be placed outside the old Levy’s Department Store, where three black people sat at a counter inside a dining area in the business — the whites-only Azalea Room — to protest segregation.
The new Savannah Protest Movement monument is the first of its kind downtown, The Savannah Morning News reported (http://bit.ly/2cUrWC5).
On March 16, 1960, Carolyn Quilloin Coleman, Ernest Robinson and Joan Tyson Hall were arrested during the sit-in.
The marker is an important way of educating Savannah’s many visitors about a crucial time in history, said former Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson.
“It’s important because there are people who are coming from all over the country, from all over the world,” Jackson said. “They need to know this history.”
“They need to know that things did not just happen, that it was a movement, it was a struggle, but it was one that was handled in a very professional way with the students taking the helm,” she added.
Jackson calls the arrests of the three students the first in the local civil rights movement. Later, local African-American leaders organized a boycott of businesses that wouldn’t employ black workers and led a voter registration drive.
The boycott and voter registration drive helped elect a moderate administration at Savannah City Hall and resulted in the repeal of an ordinance that required segregated lunch counters, according to the Georgia Historical Society. The boycotts were kept up until all facilities were desegregated about eight months before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.
The marker will be part of the state historical society’s Civil Rights Trail, the Savannah newspaper reported.
“The Civil Rights movement is a watershed event in American history and at the heart of the American story,” Georgia Historical Society President and CEO Todd Groce in a statement.
“Recognizing the Savannah protest movement and the people and events that led to desegregation in Georgia’s first city is a testament to what the human spirit can achieve under even the most difficult of circumstances,” Groce said.
The Levy’s Department Store building now houses the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Jen Library.
Having the marker outside will help “ensure one of the most important events of this storied city is never forgotten,” school President Paula Wallace said in a statement.