SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - We could not wrap up our celebration of black history without looking back at a real civil rights giant from our community. He was a noted historian and legend, the late Mr. Wesley Wallace Law.
There will never be another like Mr. Law. He was one of the smartest, bravest men around, but he was also known for never biting his tongue. When you sat down with Mr. Law, you had to be prepared for what might come up. This is what he had to say when I featured him last back in 2001.
W.W. Law recalled, "I knew inclusion rather than exclusion should have been in the beginning of this country, but it wasn't. In the preamble, it reads all men are created equal; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and in 200 years we had not done that."
Long before the Civil Rights movement of the 60's, W.W.Law was on the front lines trying to bring about equality for all people. As soon as he returned from World War II, his more important work began with the NAACP and it brought about a change for everyone living in the city of Savannah. He helped form unions which brought down racial barriers and for the first time blacks were given an opportunity to earn higher salaries, from jobs that were set aside for whites only. Law lead the black students who integrated the Chatham County Public Schools, the parks and beaches. His work also continued with city officials to improve living conditions for all residents.
You might think his work through the NAACP would have made him a hero, at least in the black community, but in those turbulent times of the 50's and 60's, while blacks were proud of what he was doing and certainly benefited, they were afraid to publicly show their support for fear of what might happen to them. On the other hand, many whites resented what he tried to do which made Law a prime target for segregationists. Law explained, "I would get threatening letters and calls. I never owned a pistol or a gun but I would talk bad and the newspapers would say he was a sharp shooter in the army and gained a medal for shooting straight, so anyone who cared to come to my house would meet me with some fire."
The harassment got so bad that Law gave up his telephone at home and used the phone at the NAACP office. So after he left work, he would go to the office and wait by the telephone until midnight. Even though his life was in danger, Law knew as the president of the group, he had to make sure he could be reached by phone, just in case anyone needed his help. On one evening another member volunteered to monitor the phone so he could go home and get some rest. Law said, "I went home and an hour after I was there I got a call that Rev. Floyd had just been murdered in the office. He was sitting at the desk where I would have been sitting."
There's no doubt in Law's mind that the bullet was meant for him. But even that close call didn't slow him down, he remained on the front lines so that all of us would have a chance at a better life. Law did this knowing in the long run, it would limit his personal success. Law said, "They would not give me a job. Blacks wouldn't give me a job because I was considered to be a militant so I was never able to teach school."
He may not have ever been hired by the school system, but W.W. Law was a teacher. I can remember meeting him when I was about 8 years old at the King Tisdell Cottage. Through his work at the Beach Institute and the Negro Heritage Tour, he taught us all about the many contributions of Blacks to this community and the world. Lessons many of us would have never learned, if it weren't for him. Inspite of his lifetime struggle, the sacrifices he made and heartache even until his death at the age of 79, W.W. Law fought on for equality. He was most proud that now many of his long time opponents have become allies.
Law told me, "I've lived long enough that many of the whites who once despised me now respect me. Even Tom Coffey, who was once the editor of the newspaper, did an editorial that said he didn't understand what I was trying to do at the time, but now he understands and would have done the same thing that I was doing."
It was certainly an honor to sit down with Mr. Law that last time just months before his death in July of 2002. There was always something very special about being in the presence of that small-framed man who put his life on the line time and time again for equality for all people.