National, regional, and state recognition has been bestowed on Slavery and Freedom in Savannah, a multi-year project encompassing a major publication, a museum exhibition, a three-day city symposium, and multiple community partnerships. Organized by Telfair Museums, the project offers insights into urban life across 300 years of Georgia history, and a variety of perspectives on slavery, emancipation, and black life in Savannah from the city’s founding to the early 20th century. The awards are:
• National award – American Association for State and Local History honored the complete project with the Leadership and History Award, its most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.
• Regional award – The Southeastern Museums Conference recognized the exhibit in its annual competition, which focuses on the interchange of ideas, information, and cooperation.
• State award – The Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council presented its Award for Excellence in Documenting Georgia’s History to the book.
The Slavery and Freedom in Savannah project is part of Telfair Museums’ ongoing efforts to document the lives and labors of the enslaved and free African Americans in the city, especially those who built and worked at the original Telfair historic homes, the Owens-Thomas House and Telfair mansion. This work explores the everyday lives of African Americans in Savannah before and after the Civil War. The work also addresses how the ownership and trade of slaves provided the foundation for the wealth and worldview of the owners of these historic sites – the Richardsons, Owens, and Telfair families.
“The project creates an awareness for a topic – urban slavery – that has rarely been explored and connects people to this important American subject through objects and ideas,” said Telfair Museums Director and CEO Lisa Grove. “Through the community partnerships, we’ve created a new dialogue that brings the African American experience together with art and history, offering a fresh and unique perspective.”
The Slavery and Freedom in Savannah project includes:
The Book- Written by leading historians of Savannah, the south, the United States, and England, the volume includes a mix of longer thematic essays and shorter
sidebars focusing on individual people, events, and places. Published February 2014 by the University of Georgia Press in cooperation with Telfair Museums, the book was edited by Leslie Harris, associate professor of history and African American studies and Winship Distinguished Research Professor at Emory University in Atlanta, and Daina Ramey Berry, associate professor of history and African diaspora studies and George W. Littlefield Fellow in American History at the University of Texas at Austin.
The Exhibition – The corresponding Slavery and Freedom in Savannah exhibition, which was shown at Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center for the Arts from February 8 to August 31, 2014, used a collection of historic objects and stories to illustrate the themes in the book. The exhibit showed images, documentary accounts, furniture, and an array of items from Telfair’s historic homes and other collections in the Savannah area. Many objects and materials were not presented elsewhere, including the Recovered Names of the Enslaved wall text, early 19th-century pews from two historic African American churches, City of Savannah Registers of Free People of Color, a 20th-century “Freedom” quilt, and a contemporary textile interpretation of Savannah’s slave history through woven silks.