Far more than on Tybee Island, black influence is evident a few miles northwest on Daufuskie Island, a so-called “sea island” tucked between Savannah and Hilton Head. The area’s roots date back to the Civil War when white plantation owners fled Union forces and abandoned their property, slaves included. On Daufuskie, you’ll still find a thriving Gullah culture, a distinct blend of West African and slave owners’ English and Scottish tradition and dialect.
Daufuskie is also home to the First Union African Baptist Church, constructed in 1885 and the area’s oldest building (the original church, built in 1881, was destroyed in a fire) and still a popular place of worship. The other ideal fount of knowledge about Gullah-Geechee culture and its lifeblood of seafood harvesting is the Heritage Museum, a former oyster and crab processing factory, in nearby Pin Point, Ga., which is also the birthplace of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
But the soul of Georgia’s black narrative is Savannah itself where, during the slavery era, auction day was once a month, and slaves, held in the yards of Ellis Square or Johnson Square, were sold off in Wright Square.
Unfortunately, much of Savannah’s black history – whether heart-wrenching or triumphant — has been poorly documented, a situation that has inspired the art collector Walter O. Evans’s crusade to keep the past alive. Among his biggest initiatives: pressing the Georgia Historical Society to create historical markers for certain influential African-Americans. On the list are the Louisiana-born jazz cornetist Joe (King) Oliver, a mentor to Louis Armstrong and other great artists, who died penniless in Savannah in 1938; William and Ellen Craft, famously clever runaway slaves (Ellen, mixed race, dressed as a man to escape) who hid in Savannah after fleeing Macon; and the former slave and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano.