Westley Wallace Law was at once ordinary and extraordinary. As head of the Savannah NAACP, he was one of a handful of visionaries who guided Savannah peacefully through the turbulent era of civil rights. But the visionary never forgot the neighbors and neighborhoods from whence he came. He was, to the end, a man of the people perfectly at home walking the streets of downtown.
"I was raised by a grandmother who would tell us, say, we don't have anything but bread and water. Eat that, wipe your mouth, and go outside and be somebody," he once said.
And so he did go outside and be somebody...one of the biggest somebodies of his day and though not sought, leadership appears to have been his destiny from birth.
"I had prepared myself for service, that's all," he said. "Not in the pulpit, not in business, but I'd prepared myself for service as a community worker and the people chose that I would be the leader. It wasn't something that I personally sought. It was a mantle that just fell on my shoulders."
A postman whose activism kept him from becoming a teacher, he rose to the presidency of the NAACP at its most challenging moment. A fierce defender of civil rights, he was the conscience of the city, reminding us of our promises and our obligations.
"I knew that inclusion rather than exclusion should have been the proper beginning of this country under the Constitution. I knew the Preamble: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' We, in 200 years, have not committed ourselves to doing just that and so the Civil Rights Movement, that's what it was all about. To set this country right. We'd been wrong all of that time. Exclusion was not the way then, nor is it now."
In his later years, Law turned his attention to raising the awareness of the accomplishments of blacks in the South. He did that in a one-room schoolhouse inside the Beach Institute for African American Studies, by restoring the King Tisdell Cottage, and by establishing the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum.
Though it all, WW Law managed to inspire generations of Savannahians with his wisdom and his leadership.