“Lift Every Voice” is a global initiative established by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture with the goal of showcasing “the depth and breadth of African American history and culture across the nation and around the world.”
Throughout the rest of August, a number of Savannah area cultural organizations and historic sites are participating and offering free admission days and other programming to honor and celebrate the region's African American history.
There's a rich deposit of untold history yet to be unearthed in Savannah, particularly as it relates to African Americans, and “Lift Every Voice” seeks to help expose some of those long-buried stories and bring to light details that have been obscured for much too long.
Perhaps one of the most interesting stories that has yet to be fully told is that of Mother Mathilda Beasley, Georgia's first African American nun and founder of the St. Francis Home for Colored Orphans, the first organization of its kind for African American girls. Little is known about her early life in Louisiana, where she was born into slavery, but Beasley came to Savannah as a free person and managed to operate a secret school for African American children before the Civil War for many years, at a time where it was illegal to teach any black person, free or enslaved, to read or write.
The Mother Mathilda Beasley Cottage will be open to visitors from 3-6 p.m. Aug. 19. The cottage is in the park at East Broad Street and East Park Avenue. There, you can learn about some of the extraordinary details of this incredible woman's life, including her brief marriage to Abraham Beasley, a free black land owner and operator of a produce market, saloon, and boarding house.
Other highlights include the Georgia Historical Society's “Ask an Archivist” session, which will be held online Aug. 28 at georgiahistory.com and will be “specifically geared to African American genealogy and research.” Experts will be fielding questions throughout the day on Twitter and Facebook @GeorgiaHistory. GHS will also be sharing photographs, rare pamphlets, and genealogy research tips online throughout the month.
On Aug. 18, the Beach Institute is offering free admission for its “Capturing the Soul” exhibition, which features photographs from the expansive W.W. Law collection. City of Savannah archivists will also be on hand to share artifacts and records from the municipal archives specifically related to Savannah's African American history.
Also Aug. 18, Ossabaw Island is featuring a walking tour to explore the tabby cabins built by enslaved Africans and some of the other fascinating histories contained on the island. The tour is free, but the purchase of boat tickets is required at ossabawisland.net. Nearby, Pin Point Heritage Museum is also offering tours about the surrounding Gullah/Geechee culture, which also happens to be the birthplace of Justice Clarence Thomas.
The Georgia State Railroad Museum will be giving free tours at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Aug. 18 “exploring the unique African American contributions to the history of the Central of Georgia Railway and other railroads throughout America.”
On Aug. 19, Fort Pulaski National Monument will offer special programming highlighting the courageous escapes of enslaved people to Union lines during the Civil War and post-emancipation life on the Sea Islands. A full description of all scheduled activities can be viewed at nps.gov/fopu. Closer to downtown, Massie Heritage Center will be open both days, with an exhibit, documentary screening and guest speakers, and Telfair Museums Owens-Thomas House will host free tours focused on the enslaved people who lived on the site.
No one will be able to experience all that's being offered, but hopefully by lifting up these previously marginalized voices and telling the often little-told stories, it will provide an opportunity to learn more about the full history of our multifaceted country.