Savannah and Slavery
Was it happenstance that this historic meeting in 1865 to discuss the future of African-Americans in the post-slavery South was held in Savannah, Georgia or was it a divine appointment ? Consider the following:
In 1861, in a speech at the Savannah Theatre, Georgia's Alexander H. Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederacy, declared, "Our new Government is found upon exactly the opposite ideas [from the United States government]; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition."
In 1859 the largest slave sale in North American history was held at a racetrack in Savannah. Four hundred and thirty-six men, women and children from Pierce Butler's two plantations near Darien, Georgia were sold to Negro speculators from all over the South. In the African-American community, the event became known as "The Weeping Time."
In 1858 Charles Lamar, a prominent Savannahian and owner of the slave ship "The Wanderer," broke federal law by trying to re-establish the transatlantic slave trade. He was put on trial in federal court in Savannah and found not guilty by the local jury.
In 1851 Savannah dedicated one of its historic squares to South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, the leader of the pro-slavery forces during the antebellum era. In 1837 he had justified slavery in the minds of many by arguing "the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two [races], is, instead of an evil a good--a positive good."
Eli Whitney perfected the cotton gin on the outskirts of Savannah in 1793; the invention led to the increase of slavery by 70% throughout the South. (There were 700,000 slaves before Whitney's patent; 1.2 million in 1810.)
But slavery was legalized in Georgia in 1750 and the port of Savannah became an integral part of the transatlantic slave trade. Merchants, planters and politicians actively directed the city's involvement in the trade until 1798, when the Georgia legislature banned the slave trade from Africa.
Unique among the British colonies, Georgia, which was founded in Savannah in 1733, was intended to be a slave-free haven for the "worthy poor" of England.
Because Savannah played such a pivotal role in the story of slavery in the American South, is it not divine justice that this city would be the place where on January 12, 1865 African-Americans would finally have their opportunity to speak truth to power?