City Market's role in history: From evil to freedom & success

City Market's role in history from evil to freedom & success

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - If I asked you what was once considered the most evil area in Savannah in the 1800s, what would you say?

I had no idea so I went to an expert, historian and owner of Day Clean Journeys Tour Company.

"The most evil area of Savannah was once the original City Market," said Dr. Jamal Toure'

That's hard to believe, but it's true.

When we think about Savannah's City Market, we think of tourists, bars, restaurants, shops and great music. But did you know that back in the 1800s and early 1900s, City Market held some horrible memories for blacks in Savannah?

The original City Market was across Barnard on St. Julian between Barnard and Jefferson Streets. It was the heart of the city.

"This is where people came to sell fruits and vegetables and meat all right here," said Dr. Toure'. "This again is where some of the great wealth was generated between the brokers, the banks, the notary's attorneys. Here in one year alone those four areas made $2 million in 1862. That's more than a billion dollars today."

While this area was booming, something shocking was going on up on the third floor of 202 West Julian Street.

"It was a Negro mart right on the third floor. This is where they sold Africans. So many people remembered what took place there on the third floor," said Dr. Toure'.

Ulysees Houston, an African man, shared his nightmares about what happened.

"He says I heard over 1,000 poor African souls crying over the loss of family members. You can never get that memory out of your head. The chains and the shackles going up the steps and along the streets or wailing of the children for their parents and the parents for their children. That's what he told folks that time was horrific," added Toure'.

Ulysees Houston's account and others from that time were passed down for generations giving City Market the reputation of being the most evil area in Savannah for blacks well into the mid-1900s.

In spite of those horrors, in 1865 newly freed blacks began their first school system on the same floor where the slaves were once sold. But they were determined not to never forget the past.

"When they went inside on the third floor, they said you could see the shackles and the chains on the walls in the classrooms where the children were being taught. Our older ancestors were basically sending a message to the younger ancestors you will never return back to that. You will get your education. Africans coming out of captivity had a greater expectation of excellence for their children than what many people have today," said Toure'.

This area went from a place of evil and shame to a place respected as an excellent school.

I chatted with Dr. Toure' about how I always love to hear how something so negative can turn into something positive.

"And that's a testimony. That's what occurred. You could see entrepreneurship from African-Americans some of them are free and some of them held in captivity. You see that entrepreneurial spirit from the 1800's still residing right here," added Toure'.

From City Market's humble beginnings to what it is today, a place where people from all walks of life are welcomed with open arms. It's one of the must-see places to enjoy in the Hostess City of the South.

To learn more about black history or take a tour through the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry, please click here.

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