Savannah funeral home’s secret role in the Civil Rights Movement

Savannah funeral home’s secret role in the Civil Rights Movement

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A woman with family ties to the Savannah Protest Movement reflects on the secret meetings her parents hosted that led to the city’s desegregation.

The leaders in attendance included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Back in 1963, Olga Bynes Bland was about 14 years old - and very aware of the inequalities in Savannah.

“I lived under the segregated rules in Savannah. We had the water fountains, you had to ride in the back of the bus, you couldn’t go through Forsyth Park. We had to go to separate schools. Everything was separate but it wasn’t equal,” she said.

Bland lived a block away from Forsyth Park on West Hall Street where her family still owns the Bynes-Royall Funeral Home today.

Her parents Frank and Frenchye Bynes, both active members of the NAACP, organized a meeting.

“So, at the time, there was a plan to hold a march here in Savannah, Georgia. So, there was a secret meeting held here in the residence with Dr. King, W.W. Law, who was NAACP president at the time. Hosea Williams. Jesse Jackson. At the time we were children, so we were not in the meeting, but we did have the opportunity to meet those who were in attendance, so that was awesome,” Bland said.

What publicly played out after the meeting included organized boycotts of city businesses, a march for desegregation in the streets of Savannah, and voter registration drives that helped elect a moderate city government.

The family business had a hand in that, too - volunteering its services.

“We used the limousines to get registered voters, you know free of charge, just come to the funeral home and we’ll take you to the voter registration to get you registered, so that was very important,” Bland said.

Facilities in Savannah were desegregated in October 1963. Eight months before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

That year, Dr. King declared Savannah the most desegregated city south of the Mason-Dixon line.

“It’s almost mind boggling to know that we were a part of a march or a movement that took place with the family who were actively involved and knew the participants and what the outcome was. So, it’s just like surreal,” Bland said.

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