SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia and the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta spent Tuesday at Georgia's State Capitol for Girl Scout Day and lobbied lawmakers to change the name of Savannah's Eugene Talmadge Bridge for Girl Scouts founder and Savannah-nativve Juliette Gordon Low.
More than 400 Girl Scouts from across Georgia attended House and Senate sessions and met individually with lawmakers to ask them to support renaming the bridge to honor Low.
"Girl Scouts everywhere have been influenced so immensely by the work of Juliette Gordon Low over the past almost 106 years," said Tara Nobles, director of community engagement for Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia. "We have 59 million alumni. That's an amazing amount of women who have been affected by her work, and we feel so passionately about what she's done for all of us. So our girls, who are right in the thick of their program right now, in middle [and] high school are up there to tell everyone about what she has done and what her work has done for them and how it's changed their lives."
Savannah City Council unanimously voted in September to rename the Talmadge Bridge to the Savannah Bridge to make the iconic bridge spanning the Savannah River more representative of the city in the 21st Century.
"Basically, the Savannah Bridge was one [name] that will never be a problem as far as any contention, so it felt like it would be a long-term name that we could live with," said Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach. "That was the reason we and the council adopted that."
The bridge is currently named for three-time Georgia Governor Eugene Talmadge, who is known for opposing social and political equality for everyone. The Georgia Historical Society has called Talmadge "one of the most openly racist governor's we've ever had."
Nobles said Girl Scouts has a history of inclusivity. According the Girl Scourts of Historic Georgia, the first documented African-American Girl Scout troop was formed in 1917.
In Savannah, the first two documented African-American Girl Scout troops were chartered on March 17, 1942. One troop was located at the State College at Thunderbolt, which later became Savannah State, and Mattie Payne, a public school teacher, English professor at the college and wife of the college president, led the troop.
The other started at a church "to be designated later," which historians now know was First African Baptist Church. Agatha Curly led the church troop.
The first integrated Girl Scout troop in Savannah met at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Troup Square and was led by Martha Fay. Fay was an Armstrong Science Professor, president of the Chatham Board of Education and a Chatham County Board of Health Member.
By the 1950s, prior to civil rights legislation, Girl Scouts USA began a national effort to desegregate all Girl Scout troops. Nobles said most areas already had African-American Girl Scouts by then, but troops were often segregated.
A 1952 issue of Ebony magazine reported that "Girl Scouts in the South are making steady progress toward breaking down racial taboos," and in 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described Girl Scouts as "a force for desegregation."
Nobles said Low fought for opportunities for women and built bridges with others throughout her life.
"She was a mover and a shaker," Nobles said. "She's done some really, really amazing things for young girls and women in general, and her work continues today. So, I think, she's always been a bridge builder, really. She's always wanted to include every girl, everywhere. We just think that she represents so much for girls, for women, for opportunity and just relationships in general. We think she's a great role model."
As far as why Girl Scouts would prefer the bridge be named for Low instead of the city or the river, Nobles said they are passionate about their founder and the work she did and still does for girls around the world.
"We understand that there are numerous opinions and lots of input for the bridge, and it's something a lot of people feel very passinately about," Nobles said. "We appreciate that. We feel very passionatley about our founder. All we can do is do our best in the Girl Scout way that we know how, which is motivating, discovering something that we are really interested in and taking action."
On the city's side, Mayor DeLoach said he's OK with any name other than Talmadge.
"This was my hope that it'd be Savannah Bridge, but my main hope is that we name it something other than the Talmadge Bridge," he said. "We felt like it would take the edge off of any controversy there, but she did a lot of good for a lot of people. And if they choose to go that way, hey, I'm all about it. I don't have a problem with it."
Girl Scouts shared Girl Scout Cookies and milk with lawmakers Tuesday, and they invited female lawmakers to join honorary Georgia State Capitol Girl Scout Troop 1912.