From Honoring Slavery to Honoring a Slave: Savannah Renames Historic Square

January 17, 2024
1 min read

SAVANNAH — Change is coming to Savannah’s historic squares. On February 10, 2024, the city will officially dedicate Taylor Square, known until now as Calhoun Square, marking a significant shift in the city’s landscape and its acknowledgment of history. The day-long celebration will start at 11 a.m. with a dedication ceremony, featuring speakers, musical performances, and clergy, and culminating in the unveiling of the new Taylor Square sign.

The ceremony represents more than just a name change. It’s a symbolic gesture, acknowledging the city’s complex past and moving towards a more inclusive future. The square, formerly named after U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun, a pro-slavery figure, will now honor Susie King Taylor, an African American woman who made significant contributions during and after the Civil War.

Mayor Van Johnson underscored the importance of this event, stating, “For the first time in our 290-year history, we will have a square name honoring a person of color, a woman, and a formerly enslaved person.” He praised the community and council’s efforts in bringing this change, inviting everyone to join in this historic moment.

The event will include a community celebration from noon to 2 p.m., featuring local musical acts, dancers, and educational displays. The evening will close with a reflection session starting at 6 p.m., accompanied by libations and music. For the convenience of the attendees, the streets surrounding Taylor Square will be closed to vehicle traffic from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

This decision follows a nearly year-long community engagement process. In November 2022, Savannah’s administration voted to remove Calhoun’s name from the square, and in October 2023, the council voted to rename it in honor of Susie King Taylor. This action reflects a growing trend in cities across the United States to reevaluate and often change symbols and names linked to a troubled past.

Born into slavery in 1848 in Georgia, Taylor became the first Black teacher to openly teach African Americans in the state. She married a Black Union officer, Edward King, during the Civil War and worked as a nurse, laundress, and teacher with his regiment.

After the war, she opened a school for freedmen’s children in Savannah and later wrote “Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops, Late 1st S.C. Volunteers,” the only memoir by an African American woman of her wartime experiences. Her life symbolizes resilience and the fight for equality, making her a fitting honoree for this historic square in Savannah.

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