SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Most people in Savannah recognize the name on the city’s Civil Rights Museum, but might not know why it’s there.
A group from Derenne Middle School learned about the name on the museum. They learned the Dr. Ralph Mark Gilbert arrived in Savannah in 1939 peddling passion plays and eventually became the thirteenth pastor of the First African Baptist Church.
“We consider him the father of the present-day Civil Rights Movement in Savannah. He’s a precursor to Dr. King’s movement in Atlanta,” said Vaughnette Goode-Walker, Director, Ralph M. Gilbert Civil Rights Museum.
“Even to this day, they’re only on their seventeenth pastor - Pastor Tillman.”
While in Savannah, Dr. Ralph Mark Gilbert was president of the local NAACP, created a USO for black soldiers at Camp Stewart, and helped abolish the white primary in elections. Arguably, his greatest impact was mentoring W.W. Law, who would carry on his work here when Gilbert left for Atlanta.
“He did a whole lot to help the community. Then, he got outside the community. He decided to go with the NAACP around Georgia and organize local chapters of the NAACP.”
When Savannah accepted and executed desegregation more peacefully than most southern cities in the 1970s, it was the result of groundwork Dr. Gilbert had done decades earlier.
“Savannah was ready because Ralph Mark Gilbert had primed them. There was never any violence here, never any riots, but there was a great movement, a direct-action movement laid out by the predecessor of W.W. Law, and that’s Ralph Mark Gilbert.”
It’s more a name straight out of Savannah’s history than it is a name on a building.
Dr. Gilbert was president of the Savannah Chapter of the NAACP from 1942-1950.
He passed away in 1956 at age 57.