Community meeting to discuss some Savannah mayoral candidates allows ‘black media only’

Updated: Mar. 27, 2019 at 11:11 PM EDT
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Savannah mayoral candidate, Alderman Van Johnson, sent the following statement to WTOC Thursday morning:

"I was invited as a 2019 Savannah Mayoral Candidate to give a candidacy statement to a gathering of African American community leaders. I accepted this invitation as an opportunity to share my vision for a progressive Savannah, as I have with business, civic, labor, neighborhood, veteran, political, Latino/Hispanic and LGBTQ groups in private and public settings.

I did not coordinate or schedule this event and did not participate in any of the discussions beyond giving my statement.

I was made aware that the organizers restricted this event to "Black Media" only. I chose to give my statement as scheduled and afterwards made myself available to the media gathered outside. I have expressed my concerns to the organizers of this event as my history of service in this community has ALWAYS been one of inclusion, of partnership and of communication.

While this decision of this group is unfortunate, I work toward the day when we trust each other enough to be inclusive in all of our gatherings.

Savannah must be open for everyone and as Mayor, I hope to lead that effort." - Van Johnson


A community meeting was held Wednesday night at the Bolton Street Baptist Church to discuss two African American candidates running for mayor.

We were not allowed to attend the meeting because of the race of the reporter we sent to cover it.

The meeting, publicized as a community meeting to support only one of Savannah’s two African American mayoral candidates, also had the condition that only black members of the media could go inside the church where it was held.

Meetings between special interest groups and candidates running for public office happen all the time, leading up to an election. That’s a point Savannah Alderman Van Johnson, who is running for mayor, made outside the church after speaking inside.

“I came in and I gave my vision for an inclusive Savannah, a progressive Savannah, and I laid out a message of why I felt I was the best candidate for mayor,” Johnson said. “Believe me, I’m uniquely qualified for this opportunity, and I wanted to make sure the individuals assembled knew that.”

We asked Alderman Johnson what he thought about the “no media, TV, radio, etc. - black press only" signs posted on the front door of the church.

WTOC: “Progressive Savannah. Do you think the message there on the door is progressive?”

Johnson: “It’s not my meeting. Again, I was asked to come give a statement, and so I came and I gave a statement.”

Johnson said he believes people should have the right to assemble and determine the rules of their assembly. Johnson was asked if he would attend a meeting where only white members of the media were allowed in.

“If I was invited to a meeting, and I’m sure I will be, if I am, I will go there. Again, I’m trying to relay a message. I’m trying to set forth a vision," he said. “I think part of the reason that we’re in this place of distrust and tension, I think we’re in need of leadership to help bring the people together, and certainly as the mayor of this city, I will attempt to bring people together," said Johnson.

Johnson concluded the interview apologizing that all members of the media weren’t included, and said there’s nothing he said inside the church to the crowd that he wouldn’t say anywhere else.

Fellow challenger for the Savannah mayor’s seat, Regina Thomas, told WTOC earlier today she felt the meeting was polarizing, divisive and premature, given the deadline to qualify for candidacy isn’t until later this year.

Thomas said she would be attending her Bible study Wednesday night instead of the meeting.

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