Savannah maintained separate and unequal public park systems for black and white people from the end of the Civil War until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Black Savannahians were barred by custom from entering the largest and finest parks due to Jim Crow segregation.
As a graduate student in public history at Georgia Southern University, I wanted to learn how the City of Savannah enforced park segregation through a combination of social customs and administrative actions.
I interned at the City of Savannah Municipal Archives and continued researching this topic alongside archives director Luciana M. Spracher.
This resulted in the curation and creation of a digital exhibit, “Jim Crow in Savannah’s Parks,” using official documents to detail how racism openly guided decisions by the City of Savannah’s Park and Tree Commission, and by the Mayor and City Council, who decided where and when to build and improve parks and recreation facilities.
The resources of the Digital Library of Georgia were critical to my research.
I read through sixty years of meeting minutes, a task made possible during the COVID-19 pandemic only because these records were digitized and freely available online, which made it possible for me to access them from home.
The Digital Library of Georgia also has digitized copies of the speech books of Malcolm R. Maclean, the mayor who guided Savannah toward agreements desegregating restaurants, hotels, theaters, and other public accommodations even before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Black-owned newspapers chronicled Jim Crow in Savannah, while the “white” press largely ignored it until the 1950s. The Georgia Historic Newspapers website, maintained by the Digital Library of Georgia, gave me access to decades of the Savannah Tribune, Savannah’s leading black newspaper, which I also used in the exhibit.
A premier online compilation of digital civil rights content is relaunching with a new look and thousands of additional pieces of history.
The milestone marks a new era for the Civil Rights Digital Library (CRDL). This project brings together more than 200 libraries, archives, and museums to provide free online access to historical materials documenting the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. These collaborative partnerships are the bedrock of this national project.
Barbara McCaskill, an English professor at the University of Georgia who serves as director of the Civil Rights Digital Library and other projects, notes:
“Since its launch in 2008, the Civil Rights Digital Library has played a meaningful role in advancing the understanding of America’s civil rights activism at a time when upticks in racially motivated violence and crime and the erosion of voting rights have attached more urgency than ever to issues of equality, equity, human dignity, and freedom.”
“The signal achievement of this resource is its varied and unique content about people, places, and events. But it also challenges users to expand their knowledge of civil rights studies beyond national icons such as Dr. King and Rosa Parks, cities such as Atlanta and Birmingham, and beyond the 50s, 60s, and 70s to the present day.“
”As a result, the Civil Rights Digital Library continues to demonstrate a transformative impact on scholarship and instruction, as well as on how we carry ourselves as citizens and come together in community.”
Researchers and visitors can search the content of the Civil Rights Digital Library in numerous ways, includinggeographic location browsing with an interactive map that identifies civil rights movement-related resources in all 50 states.
The site also contains:
Biographical information for more than 3,000 people active during the civil rights era, which can be browsed alphabetically by surname. Many of these civil rights workers and foot soldiers may not be familiar, but their commitment to the movement formed the backbone of transformative civil rights campaigns and social reform.
Raw newsfilm footage from Georgia television stations WSB (Atlanta) and WALB (Albany) preserved through the University of Georgia Libraries’ Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection. These stations covered civil rights events throughout the entire southeastern United States.
Exhibits drawn from materials belonging to partner libraries, archives, and museums across Georgia, created by Georgia graduate students in collaboration with the DLG and NGE.
“By relaunching an expanded site on Sept. 9, 2022, the 65th anniversary of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the Digital Library of Georgia celebrates the first federal civil rights legislation of the 20th century,” adds Sheila McAlister, director of the Digital Library of Georgia. “The relaunch demonstrates the DLG’s commitment to reflecting and sharing the diversity of experiences in Georgia and nationwide.”