SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - In 1967, Beach High School won the first integrated Georgia state basketball championship.
It was 3 a.m. in downtown Savannah when then 10-year-old Lawrence Bryan saw something he had never seen before.
“I’ll never forget it. When they came off that train and raised that trophy, there was pandemonium out here. I mean, it was a sea of people, 4,000 people,” Bryan said.
They were there in the middle of the night to welcome and celebrate the 1967 Beach High School basketball team. The first Black school to win a state championship in Georgia.
Bryan was among the crowd there when the Nancy Hanks, the steam train that ran between Savannah and Atlanta, brought the champs home.
“My father graduated from Beach High School and he said we have to go down there and greet them. There are going to be a lot of people down there, and the beautiful thing was there were Black fathers bringing their families to witness this thing, man. It was a great moment in Black history for the city of Savannah and the Black community,” Bryan said.
Bryan has followed high school basketball in Savannah for 50 years and has never seen another team like the Beach ’67 state champs.
“Roger Moore, David Hall, Wilson Scott, Andrew Knowles, Gator Rivers. The fact that Gator Rivers came off the bench should tell you how great that team was,” he said.
But that night in downtown Savannah 54 years ago was about more than basketball. For Bryan and a lot of others, it was the first time they had seen young Black men embraced and celebrated by their hometown.
“Oh man, they were superheroes. When they came home, they were superheroes. It was a tough time for Black people back then. You had a governor, Lester Maddox, who was a sympathizer for white supremacy. That’s why it took so long to allow Black high schools to participate. It was a fantastic time for Black folks in Savannah. They were so proud of this moment.”
And Bryan’s father let him know just how proud he was in that moment.
“He put his arms around me, and he said, son what you are witnessing now - this is how he put it - I’ll be dead and gone but they’ll be talking about this for years to come. Because Beach High School was the first Black school to win a state championship.”
Bryan would go on to play basketball and win a state championship at Savannah High - Beach’s biggest rival. But he never lost his sense of awe for the Bulldogs’ 1967 championship team.