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Savannah is considering black people and women for the town square to replace the name of slavery advocate

SAVANNAH, Georgia (AP) —

photos time-released to move at 12:01 a.m. Saturday RPRB101-102.

Nine months after leaders of Georgia’s oldest city stripped the name of a pro-slavery U.S. vice president from one of its public squares, a black woman who was former to enslaved people learned to read and write.

Susie King Taylor, who started a school for black children and adults on the Georgia coast in 1862 with support from occupying Union soldiers, is among the finalists recommended for an honor Savannah has not bestowed in 140 years: choosing a name for one of the historic squares that are among the distinctive features of the city.

A pair of citizen advisory panels has submitted six names to the Savannah City Council for consideration for a scheduled August 24 vote on a new name for the square. In a major break from the city’s past, none of the finalists are white males.

Instead, the nominees are four black people — a preacher, a formerly enslaved woman, a civil rights hero, and an army pilot — as well as Native Americans who lived in the area when Savannah was founded and a group of women who left Savannah in the 1950s. to preserve his past.

“Whatever name is chosen, it will be a name that represents more diversity in Savannah and expands a little bit on the story Savannah tells about itself,” said Kristopher Monroe, chair of the local Historic Site and Monument Commission who previously made her recommendations. did this month.

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With towering live oaks and blooming azaleas framing benches at its center, the square near the southern edge of Savannah’s historic downtown has been unnamed since Nov. 10, when the City Council voted unanimously to get rid of the name Calhoun Square.

For more than 170 years, the park-like space was named for John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina politician who served in Congress and as U.S. Vice President in two administrations before his death in 1850.

Calhoun was one of Washington’s most vocal proponents of slavery in the decades leading up to the Civil War, making him a target of racial justice advocates seeking to rid public spaces of statues and other markers honoring the Confederacy and white supremacists .

“This square has a lot of reminders of what used to be,” says Patt Gunn, who gives tours of Savannah’s Black history. As a child, she often did homework on a bench in the square while her mother worked nearby. “It is honorable to say that we can remove Calhoun.”

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Gunn leads a group of activists who want the square to honor Taylor, who also assisted the Union Army as a nurse during the Civil War and went on to establish multiple schools for freed black children.

Featured finalists also include Reverend George Leile, who founded one of America’s oldest black churches in Savannah in 1777. WW Law led the civil rights campaign that peacefully desegregated the city’s schools, shops and restaurants in 1963. Army Major Clayton Carpenter, a special operations pilot, rescued his crew, but was killed in a 2014 helicopter crash while training in Savannah.

The other finalist nominees are the name “Creek Square” for the Native Americans who lived in the area when British settlers settled Savannah in 1733, and “Seven Sisters Square” for the women activists who helped support Savannah’s movement for historical initiated conservation to protect older people. houses and buildings from demolition.

“I don’t know what the city council will do, but this family is honored that Clay was considered,” said Colette Carpenter, who didn’t know her pilot son was nominated until his army friends applied.

Grouping homes and buildings around public squares was a unique part of Savannah’s original city plan when British settlers founded Georgia as their 13th North American colony. Most of the 23 squares are named after an individual person, and each of them is a white male.

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Not everyone agrees that Calhoun deserved to lose the award. Savannah resident David Tootle filed a lawsuit last month asking a Chatham County judge to block the upcoming city council vote. He argues that removing signs with Calhoun’s name from the plaza violates a 2019 Georgia law passed to protect public landmarks, such as Confederate memorials, from removal.

“He was an important figure in American history whether we like him or not,” Tootle said of Calhoun. “I disagree with some of the things he did, but it doesn’t take away from his contribution to the country.”

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said the city did not violate state law. The city owns the square, he said, and therefore has the right to choose the name.

Savannah officials aren’t required to choose a name from the six recommended finalists, but Johnson, who like 54% of Savannah’s population is black, said he’s impressed with the list and its diversity.

“I think any of the names could easily be the name of the square,” said the mayor. “They all have merits.”

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