Patt Gunn speaks at the Taylor Square dedication in Savannah on February 10, 2024.

Savannah Master Storyteller Patt Gunn Discusses Susie King Taylor and Renaming Historic Square

Taking place at Second African Baptist Church, the free lecture is part of a series: "The People, Places, and Stories that Define Savannah."

The Historic Savannah Foundation, along with the Davenport House Museum, presents a special talk: "Susie King Taylor and the Making of Taylor Square." This event is part of their ongoing lecture series, "The People, Places, and Stories That Define Savannah."

Savannah master storyteller and grassroots public policy activist Patt Gunn will lead the discussion. Gunn was the force behind the Susie King Taylor Center for Jubilee, and she also spearheaded the successful campaign to rename Calhoun Square to Taylor Square.

click to enlarge Savannah Master Storyteller Patt Gunn Discusses Susie King Taylor and Renaming Historic Square
City of Savannah
Patt Gunn and Hermina Glass-Hill

"I did not know that 58 years later I would be able to come and ask you if the square that was segregated would be changed and made in honor of an honorable woman by the name of Susie King Taylor," said Patt Gunn.

The free lecture takes place on Thursday, June 20, at 6 p.m. at the Second African Baptist Church (123 Houston St.). This is a chance to gain a deeper understanding of Savannah's history and the inspiring legacy of Susie King Taylor.

“We invite everyone to join us for a memorable evening at Second African Baptist Church featuring Patt Gunn and her successful efforts to rename a Savannah square in honor of Susie King Taylor,” said Historic Savannah Foundation CEO and President Sue Adler. “Don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about Savannah’s ongoing narrative of growth and inclusion.”

click to enlarge Savannah Master Storyteller Patt Gunn Discusses Susie King Taylor and Renaming Historic Square
Library of Congress
Susie King Taylor

Susie King Taylor defied limitations throughout her life. Born into slavery in 1848, she gained an education through secret schools run by free Black women. Fleeing to freedom at 14, she became a teacher for Black children during the Civil War.

Taylor's remarkable journey includes serving alongside the Union Army as a nurse, educator, and more. She even broke ground by publishing a memoir, "Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd United States Colored Troops," making her the first Black woman to document her Civil War experiences.

“When I think of Susie King Taylor being born into slavery and having the opportunity to receive freedom, I think of resilience. She was resilient. She was encouraging. She was a teacher. She was a healer. Susie King Taylor is the epitome of what needs to be represented in our public squares in the 21st century. She was resilient,” said Gunn.

The Savannah City Council voted to change the name of the square that had the name of John C. Calhoun for 170 years. Calhoun, a former U.S. vice president, was a staunch advocate for slavery. The square itself was once a burial ground for hundreds of enslaved Black Savannahians. This decision reflects a desire to acknowledge this complex past while shaping a more inclusive future for the city.

“What he stood for is not what Savannah stands for. He did not represent what Savannah is, and certainly not what Savannah wants to be. This council in 2023 has an opportunity to do something that lasts well beyond us in a city that is known for its history,” said Johnson.

click to enlarge Savannah Master Storyteller Patt Gunn Discusses Susie King Taylor and Renaming Historic Square
Patt Gunn
Patt Gunn

For nearly one year, the square sat unnamed. In a historic decision, in October 2023, after a three-year campaign from supporters of the change, the Savannah City Council finally approved the renaming of Calhoun Square to Taylor Square. The Susie King Taylor Committee reflected on the journey, acknowledging both the challenges and triumphs of the process.

“We realized that one person can't do it. We formed a coalition that is continuing the legacy of King Taylor. We're doing online courses beginning in the fall. We're actually getting ready to do some storytelling in Taylor Square. We think we should have a beautiful memorial there. There's a lot to talk about in terms of where we're going with this work,” said Gunn.

The ceremony in downtown Savannah on February 10 marked a historic moment. The square at Abercorn and Wayne streets was renamed Taylor Square in honor of Susie King Taylor, the first Black woman educator in Georgia and a former slave. Notably, Taylor Square is also the first of Savannah's 22 squares named after a woman.

“I want this square to be a place where little chocolate girls can come and say, I can be another of the King Taylors in another season,” said Gunn.

     

Kareem McMichael

Kareem McMichael is a filmmaker, documentarian, writer, and multimedia content creator. The Macon native enjoys entertainment, and sharing with locals and visitors’ stories about Savannah’s art and culture scene. When he is not working, he enjoys relaxing at the beach, grabbing a beverage, hitting a fun art event,...
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