Exploring Savannah’s Black history through the words, pictures of W.W. Law

Updated: Feb. 16, 2021 at 12:43 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - If you’re looking for a road map through Black History in Savannah, the path has already been charted by one of the city’s own civil rights icons.

As part of Black History Month, the Massie Heritage Center is is revisiting Westley Wallace Law’s Negro Heritage Trail.

“He believed that knowledge of your heritage empowers you so that’s why he studied history so much” Massie’s museum curator Steve Smith said.

Westley Wallace Law devoted his life to preserving African-American history in Savannah. He studied, he wrote, and then hit the pavement to guide anyone ready to learn.

“In the 1970s, after years and years of studying African American history here in Savannah he decided to put together a what he termed the Negro Heritage Trail, and it included 32 different sites found throughout the downtown historic district,” Smith said.

Smith says the collaborative effort with the City of Savannah Municipal Archives is bringing the Law’s heritage trail back to life.

“When we first went in and started going through his materials, it was completely overwhelming.”

The exhibit includes pictures, a handwritten script, and a detailed map to help recreate the tour Law first led more than 40 years ago.

“He was a pioneer of heritage education,” Smith said. “He was doing this in the 1970s before there was a lot of money in it, and there were very few people involved in it, but he wasn’t doing it so much for the money he was doing it to educate audiences, about the importance of African American History in Savannah.”

The Massie Heritage Center is also putting you in Law’s shoes by offering a walking tour through a portion of the National Historic Landmark District. Using Law’s notes as a guide, Smith leads daily tours with stops at Calhoun, Lafayette, Madison and Chippewa Squares. It’s a taste of Law’s original trail, but you’ll need to carve out more than an afternoon to get the full experience.

“I guess you could do it full day but you’d have to really be trucking it,” Smith said. “I think it’d be more like two or three days if you really studied these sites as well.”

The exhibit at the Massie Heritage Center also includes a sample of W.W. Law’s record collection. Smith says the exhibit also includes recommended songs to download and listen to during the walking tour.

The $10 tours are offered Monday through Friday at 2 p.m. and the exhibit is on display at the Massie Center until March 8.

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