March held against proposed homeless shelter in West Savannah

A demonstration was held Thursday in West Savannah to protest a proposed homeless shelter off...
A demonstration was held Thursday in West Savannah to protest a proposed homeless shelter off Augusta Avenue.(WTOC)
Updated: Mar. 18, 2021 at 6:16 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A demonstration was held Thursday in West Savannah to protest a proposed homeless shelter off Augusta Avenue.

The Salvation Army wants to build a new transitional housing homeless shelter, off of Interstate 516, next to the site where the historic “Weeping Time” took place. It was a traumatic two day sale of enslaved people back in 1859.

We’re told nine pastors in all organized Thursday’s march.

The ones that spoke were very straight-forward and even had some choice words for some members of the Savannah city council. They say it’s nothing against the Salvation Army, but they simply do not want the homeless shelter built in that spot.

“Everybody say not approved! ‘Not approved!’ The location and zoning permit for the Salvation Army to build a homeless shelter on Augusta Avenue,” said Pastor Larry Gordon.

A group of local pastors and West Savannah residents joined-together Thursday, to voice their concerns over the Salvation Army’s proposal, to build a new, multi-million-dollar transitional housing homeless shelter on Augusta Avenue.

They say it would be bad for the community and insulting to a historic property.

“Go and talk to the first 15 people in West Savannah you find, and you will find out that we don’t want it here,” said Reverend Dr. Leonard Small.

“We have offered them a couple of alternatives,” said Pastor Gordon.

Alderwoman Bernetta Lanier was on-hand for the demonstration.

In the last two weeks, WTOC brought you a story about questions raised about a potential conflict of interest involving Lanier and a competing proposal for the land.

Lanier denies any conflict of interest. She says the entire issue has gotten too political and she’d like to see a compromise.

“It would not be on a sacred ground. Because we do hold that property where it’s being proposed very sacredly in our hearts,” said Lanier.

Reverend Leonard Small led Thursday’s march. He criticized the media’s coverage of Alderwoman Lanier and the topic as a whole.

He also criticized the black members of the Savannah City Council who have not committed to opposing the shelter.

“We’re functioning like Uncle Tom’s. We’re having to fight us about us. We will not allow this ground to be desecrated. We will not allow this thing to happen. Not on our watch,” said Reverend Dr. Small.

Mayor Van Johnson and two other members of city council responded to the Reverend using the term “Uncle Tom” in describing the disagreement among black members of the city council, over the Salvation Army’s proposal.

“First of all, in 2021, it’s kind of disappointing and sad that we’re calling each other names. What kind of example does that set for our children. We’re supposed to act better and be better, and certainly this is not a good example. It is absolutely inappropriate for any council member to actively protest or support something that they are going to vote upon,” Mayor Johnson told WTOC.

Alderman Detric Leggett also responded to what the reverend said.

He told us, “It hurt as a civic leader to know in this day and age we still have people who feel they could say and allow themselves to humiliate others for differences of opinion.”

Councilwoman Linda Wilder-Bryan added, “We need to base our decisions on facts, not name-calling. They don’t speak for all black people in this community.”

When asked more about the pastors who organized the march, Pastor Larry Gordon said, “The pastors that were available today were Pastor Wanita Edwards, Pastor Larry Duncan, Bishop Willie Farrell, Rev. Bonnie Sharpe, and myself. Pastors that have signed a petition and could not meet the meeting this morning that Pastor’s a church in the area is Apostle Richard Walthour, Pastor Coppock, and Bishop Calvin Singleton.

Dr. Lenard Smalls owns property in the area. There were only five there today, and there are two more on the list that is 90 years old, and one is 88. They’ve been pastoring over 125 years together. And there are many other ministers in the area that have voice their concerns that are within a half mile area and do not want the shelter.”

The pastor claims these nine pastors all have churches within 400 yards of the proposed site.

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