Friday and Saturday, August 24 and 25, 2013 will be etched in the history of the Savannah community. Hundreds gathered for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of desegregation in Savannah, GA.
The Committee to Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Desegregation in Savannah put together an awesome weekend-long program that coincided with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. “What makes this celebration unique is the deliberate choice by the Committee to concentrate on celebrating what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the “Ground Crew,” those unsung heroes and sheroes that were in the local army of freedom fighters,” said Otis Johnson who presided over the Saturday program.
Hundreds of Civil rights leaders, elected officials, and the Savannah community young and old were in attendance at Savannah High School for a spectacular recollection of the days of segregation. Father Charles L. Hoskins gave an account of what Ben Van Clark called “1963: The Second Siege of Savannah”. The students of All Walks of Life (AWOL) performed amazingly in song and speech “Bringing the Movement to Life” telling the story of the local struggle and the people involved.
Following the performances, panel discussions were held. The sessions included the Armstrong Desegregation with Otis Johnson as chairperson; Public School Desegregation with Ms. Ann Goldwire Sims as chairperson; Downtown Demonstration with Ms. Elizabeth K. Jackson as chairperson and March on Washington with Samuel A. Christie, Jr. as chairperson. The panel discussions were powerful and reminded some, while teaching others, just what our grandparents and great-grandparents had to tolerate as a Savannah citizen. The Saturday event was dismissed with prayer by Rev. James Hudson.
On Sunday, at 4pm at First African Baptist Church, an old fashion Mass Meeting was held. Richard Shinhoster 1st Vice President , NAACP Executive Committee, presided. The meeting began with usual opening song, “We Shall Overcome”. This celebration as done in the past continued in song. Ms. Markeya Relford performed, as well as the Anointing Voices Gospel Choir from Armstrong Atlantic State University and the Wesleyan Choir of Savannah State University. Otis Johnson presented “Reflections of the Past and a Glimpse of the Future”. Mrs. Juanita Tucker wowed the audience singing a medley of Freedom songs. The keynote speaker for the occasion was Mrs. Mercedes Wright Arnold, former Executive Board Member, Savannah Branch NAACP, a veteran civil rights activist and one of the few women that huddled with the then male dominated leadership at the Savannah Branch NAACP.. Mrs. Arnold told stories of the secret meetings held in undisclosed locations in order to prepare for the demonstrations. She also spoke about the people (non-Black) who provided services to the NAACP. Arnold charged the audience with continuing in the struggle. “We have got to be accountable for ourselves”, said Arnold. She couldn’t leave without words on the Trayvon Martin shooting. “I know the pain to well” as she spoke about the death of her own son, Bruce Wright. She concluded her speech reminding us to do whatever it takes to be all we can be referring to the task of Otis Johnson integrating Armstrong State College.