SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - As we continue our celebration of Black history, we are going back to the late 1600s when it is believed that the first Africans came to America.
They came against their will as slaves. You must remember that back then, slavery was protected by the laws of the land, but that didn't stop these very proud people from a far away dark continent from trying to escape from bondage. They wanted to live as if they were free, in a land where they were viewed as property instead of human.
A lot of thought went into the design of this historic church when slaves built First African Baptist back in the 1850s.
They painted the front doors red and made sure they made the ceiling out of square tiles. Both the doors and the ceiling were a secret message to others living in bondage that this church was also a sanctuary for freedom.
But the real proof of that is in the church basement. There are four columns. At their base, there are small holes in the floor. These holes supplied air to the slaves who were hiding beneath the floor trying to escape from bondage.
But even the holes had a connection to the slaves' homeland.
"That cross in the middle is actually an African symbol, cosmogram. It is the continuity of life meaning that on this side of the cross you have this world the world of the living but the day shall come when you have to cross over the water into the afterlife. Below there Africans would be in tunnels. There are tunnels about four feet tall right below these markings. Africans can be knee bone in the tunnel and they could hear their brothers and sisters up top through these holes sending messages and prayers," explains Jamal Toure', owner of Day Clean Journeys Tour Company.
This was part of the underground railroad that slaves used to make their way to freedom. From First African, the slaves traveled and held up in the place we now call Runaway Point. Back then it was nothing but woods.
Eventually those slaves running for their lives and freedom made their way to Fort Pulaski.
"We know that the Fort was a refuge for slaves after the union army took the fort back. We know that some of the escaped slaves worked with the army to help maintain the fort. We've seen passing references in some of the reports written by the officers that they were tapping into the knowledge that they had in terms of trying to navigate the waterways here," explains Mike Weinstein, Fort Pulaski park ranger.
Some of those slaves remained in Savannah after the Civil War. Many others made their way to Tybee Island and eventually ended up in Florida where their dream of freedom was realized.