In the Garden of Eden, a soul food restaurant on Martin Luther King Boulevard, the Savannah native Wanda Lloyd, age 65, recalled her father’s mortuary, Williams & Williams Funeral Home, and her grandmother’s Boyce’s School of Beauty Culture. Also among her memories are 1960s anti-segregation sit-ins and a 16-month boycott of several local retailers, including the white-owned Levy’s department store. Despite having grown up middle-class, Ms. Lloyd concedes to being part of the exodus of blacks who saw limited opportunities at home. “I left Savannah the day I graduated high school,” said Ms. Lloyd, who moved to cities like Washington, Atlanta, Miami and Nashville before returning to Savannah last July where she is now chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications at Savannah State University, a historically black college. “I went in and got my diploma and I told my father, ‘keep the motor running.’ I wanted to be a newspaper person and there weren’t any African-Americans doing what I wanted to do.”
A few miles away from Savannah’s black main street is Laurel Grove South Cemetery, the most significant burial ground for local African-Americans who died in the 19th and 20th centuries. A rolling landscape of live oaks, cypress and crumbling tombs and markers for free blacks and slaves, the land was once a rice field for the Springfield Plantation; in the mid-1800s it was developed as a graveyard after Savannah’s mainstay burial site, Colonial Park Cemetery, was filled.
The plots were racially segregated — some 50 acres in what’s called Laurel Grove North, were allotted to whites, while 30 acres in Laurel Grove South were devoted to blacks. “Not even in death did we get our 40 acres,” Mr. Brown sniffed. (Incidentally, long before the filmmaker Spike Lee named his company 40 Acres & a Mule Filmworks, the “40 acres” phrase was inspired by Special Field Order No. 15 — issued in 1865 by Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman in which newly freed slave families were given the rights to some 40 acres of land along the southeastern coast.)