James B. Blackburn (J.B.), born October 18, 1925, near Dover in Screven County, Georgia, died January 22, 2020 at Candler Hospital after a brief illness. He was educated in the public schools of Screven County and graduated at the age of 16 from Rocky Ford High School in 1941. After graduation, he found work at Savannah Machine and Foundry, working on electric engines and then at Southeastern Shipbuilding Corporation, building Liberty ships. At 18 years old, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served in World War II in the South Pacific as a radarman on a sea-going tugboat.
After the war, he entered the University of Georgia at the Hunter Airforce Base on the GI bill. He married Mercer Griffith in 1947 and they moved to Athens, Georgia to attend the University of Georgia together. J.B. studied law and graduated with an LLB in December 1949. He was sworn into the Bar in 1949 and began practicing law in 1950 with Casper Wiseman. They practiced law as partners in Savannah until Mr. Wiseman’s death in 1991.
In 1950, he entered the U.S. Naval Reserve and served until 1967 as a full lieutenant. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, he was a member of The Savannah Jaycees and participated in their effort to establish a council-manager form of government in the City of Savannah. In 1957, he was appointed Assistant City Attorney of Savannah and served in that position until 1961, when Mayor Malcolm Maclean appointed him City Attorney. He served as the City Attorney until 1967. Four years later, Mayor John Rousakis reappointed him as City Attorney, where he served until he was 86 years old in 2012.
In addition to the City of Savannah, he was attorney for the Savannah Pilotage Commission, and the Savannah Airport Commission. In 2016, he semi-retired from the practice of law at the age of 91, but continued to represent the Airport Commission until 2019.
J.B. always tried to do what was right, even if it was unpopular. He believed in treating all people with fairness, dignity and compassion, no matter the color of their skin, their gender, or their beliefs. He was a man of faith, though he did not wear his religion on his sleeve. He was a Sunday School teacher from 1950 until his death, and a Deacon and former Chairman of Deacons at Ardsley Park Baptist Church.
J.B. was a 32nd degree mason, and a member of the Alee Shrine, serving for many years as Recorder and a member of the Patrol. He was proud to be a member of the Shrine’s Royal Order of Jesters, and was a 50 + year member and past President of the Kiwanis Club of Savannah. J.B. was inducted into the Georgia Municipal Association’s Hall of Fame in 2002 and was the recipient of many awards, including: the NAACP Freedom award in 1989, the Savannah Bar Association’s Robbie E. Robinson Award for protection of the rights of individuals and the promotion of justice through law in 1997, and the Bar’s Professionalism Award in 2011.
He leaves behind his wife of 72 years, Mercer Griffith Blackburn; his two sons, James B. Blackburn, Jr. and John F. Blackburn, daughter-in-law, Maryann Gallagher; six grand-children, Megan, Kaki, Margaret, James III, Allyson and John, Jr.; sister-in-law, Jenell R. Griffith; and his friend and administrative legal assistant of 60+ years, Mary Ann Mock. The family would like to thank Albert Harris, Valerie Knight, Melinda Furs, Evelyn Lloyd, Willie Green, and Henry Johnson for their loving assistance over the last few years.
The funeral service were held last Monday, January 27, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. at Ardsley Park Baptist Church at Bull and 56th Street, with burial in the Greenwich Section of Bonaventure Cemetery.