Savannah pays tribute to vanishing African American-owned storefronts

savannah georgia waterfront and street scenes

SAVANNAH — Georgia’s oldest city is celebrating its African American heritage in a new exhibit running through June 22.

On display in the City Hall Rotunda, “Vanishing Savannah” showcases photographs documenting a small sampling of Savannah’s rich cache of hand-painted signs from storefronts and facades of predominantly African American churches, barbershops and beauty salons, restaurants and seafood emporiums, and auto repair and car wash businesses.

Once abundant, as gentrification spreads from downtown into midtown, Thomas Square, and the Starland districts, more of these signs disappear every day. In many cases, photographs are the only remaining documentation of this valuable part of the city’s culture and history.

The photographs on display were taken in the 1990s and early 2000s by local photographer Susan Earl in collaboration with Tom Kohler, who began documenting this artform in Savannah after the loss of a sign on the exterior of The Music Lounge.

“Vanishing Savannah” features the artwork of Jimmie Williams, well-known for his airbrushed portraits of fedora-clad men and elegant women, as well as free-hand lettering, Leonard Miller, also known as “The Sandman” for his Tybee Island sand sculptures, and Marcus Polite, whose work was characterized by lettering and graphic elements.

The exhibit was produced by Emily Earl of Prismatic Prints for the Municipal Archives. The City Hall Rotunda is open to visitors Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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