Black History: River Street

By Dawn Baker email | bio

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - River Street is a huge attraction for tourists. Most of the time, it's packed as people shop, go to restaurants or just enjoy the scenery.

But, this wasn't always a happy place for the people who lived and worked here centuries ago.

"As you walk up the street, imagine you have some cotton on your heads. We know about longshoremen but there were also women African women who worked on the waterfront just like African men, realize that they had to carry the cotton and rice also," explains Jamal Toure', owner of Day Clean Journey Tour Company.

They walked on dirt roads until those same Africans built the roads on River Street today.

"In Gullah, they would call it cobble rock streets. Africans play a role in the laying out the cobblestones because the ships that come in have stones just like these basically helping them on their journey. So when they come into port cities, they dump them in place like Savannah, Charleston and Baltimore use them to pave the streets," says Toure'.

As you take in the beauty of the old buildings, remember they all tell a story, some from a very dark time in our nation's history.

"As we are traveling along River Street, we're looking at these buildings that are gift shops, night clubs and restaurants. A lot of people don't realize that Africans were also inside these buildings. Many realize that these were cotton warehouses, but at night many times Africans were kept here overnight," adds Toure'.

Today we use the archways right next to city hall for parking, but back then, there were no cars here, just cargo like cotton and also people. These areas served as holding cells for slaves. After they worked long hard hours for free building wealth for their owners, many were left here until it was time to do it all over again the next day.

"When we look outside of the building or the holding cells, we see the factors who were the investors. Some people think the factors were just about rice, cotton and indigo not realizing that it was also about Africans because we were called black gold," says Toure'.

They became as precious as gold to this community doing the hard manuel labor that built this city from the ground up. Even to this day, we are enjoying the fruits of that labor.

It's amazing when you look at those cobblestones and think back to how they were laid by hand and yet they have survived everything we have done through the years, from the days of horses and buggies to cars and trucks.

To learn more about history in the Low Country and Coastal Empire visit,