“Slavery and Freedom in Savannah” Project Earns Multiple Awards

Press release from the issuing company

Friday, October 10th, 2014

National, regional, and state recognition has been bestowed on Slavery and Freedom in Savannah, a multi-year project encompassing a major publication, a museum exhibition, a three-day city symposium, and multiple community partnerships. Organized by Telfair Museums, the project offers insights into urban life across 300 years of Georgia history, and a variety of perspectives on slavery, emancipation, and black life in Savannah from the city’s founding to the early 20th century.

The awards are:

  • National award – American Association for State and Local History honored the complete project with theLeadership and History Award, its most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.
  • Regional award – The Southeastern Museums Conference recognized the exhibit in its annual competition, which focuses on the interchange of ideas, information, and cooperation.
  • State award – The Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council presented its Award for Excellence in Documenting Georgia’s History to the book.

The Slavery and Freedom in Savannah project is part of Telfair Museums’ ongoing efforts to document the lives and labors of the enslaved and free African Americans in the city, especially those who built and worked at the original Telfair historic homes, the Owens-Thomas House and Telfair mansion. This work explores the everyday lives of African Americans in Savannah before and after the Civil War. The work also addresses how the ownership and trade of slaves provided the foundation for the wealth and worldview of the owners of these historic sites – the Richardsons, Owens, and Telfair families.   

“The project creates an awareness for a topic – urban slavery – that has rarely been explored and connects people to this important American subject through objects and ideas,” said Telfair Museums Director and CEO Lisa Grove. “Through the community partnerships, we’ve created a new dialogue that brings the African American experience together with art and history, offering a fresh and unique perspective.”   

The Slavery and Freedom in Savannah project includes:

Book- Written by leading historians of Savannah, the south, the United States, and England, the volume includes a mix of longer thematic essays and shorter sidebars focusing on individual people, events, and places. Published February 2014 by the University of Georgia Press in cooperation with Telfair Museums, the book was edited by Leslie Harris, associate professor of history and African American studies and Winship Distinguished Research Professor at Emory University in Atlanta, and Daina Ramey Berry, associate professor of history and African diaspora studies and George W. Littlefield Fellow in American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

Exhibition - The corresponding Slavery and Freedom in Savannah exhibition, which was shown at Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center for the Arts from February 8 to August 31, 2014, used a collection of historic objects and stories to illustrate the themes in the book. The exhibit showed images, documentary accounts, furniture, and an array of items from Telfair’s historic homes and other collections in the Savannah area. Many objects and materials were not presented elsewhere, including the Recovered Names of the Enslaved wall text, early 19th-century pews from two historic African American churches, City of Savannah Registers of Free People of Color, a 20th-century “Freedom” quilt, and a contemporary textile interpretation of Savannah’s slave history through woven silks. 

Symposium - The Slavery and Freedom in Savannah project began with a three-day symposium in October 2011, featuring lectures and discussions with 11 national and international scholars of U.S. and African American History. Most of the information presented at this program, which drew more than 500 people in attendance, was included in the book and featured in the exhibit. Community partnerships for the symposium, exhibition, and book launch included Live Oak Public Libraries, the City of Savannah, University of Georgia Press, Beach Institute, the First African Baptist Church, the Second African Baptist Church, Armstrong State University, Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah State University, and Windsor Forest High School.

Tania Sammons, a contributor to the book and senior curator of decorative arts and historic sites for Telfair Museums, served as Project Director for Slavery and Freedom in Savannah. Sammons said she wanted to provoke ideas and personal connections with the exhibit. “We wanted people to walk away with answers, but also leave with questions, to want to learn more about the people and places featured in the book and exhibit. From the comments we received, we believe we’ve started a robust discussion on this part of our history.”


Reinterpretation of the Owens-Thomas House

Built 1816-1819, the Owens-Thomas House is considered by architectural historians to be one of the finest examples of English Regency architecture in America. The site includes an original carriage house, which contains one of the earliest intact urban slave quarters in the South.

The reinterpretation of the Owens-Thomas House history began with the preservation of the houses’ slave quarters in the mid-1990s. It was then that Telfair Museums began introducing visitors to a broader spectrum of its former inhabitants—white and black; men, women and children; enslaved and free.

The efforts continued when in 2005 and 2006 the museum received two National Endowment for the Humanities consultation and planning grants. In 2010, Telfair received a Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which supported the Slavery and Freedom in Savannah symposium presented in October 2011 and the publication of the book. The Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, City of Savannah, and the Friends of the Owens-Thomas House also provided financial support for the symposium.

Telfair Museums Hours:

Telfair Museums’ sites are open Sunday and Monday 12-5 pm, Tuesday-Saturday 10 am-5 pm.

For a fee of $20, visitors may purchase a triple-site pass that expires a week after purchase and gives one-time entry to the Owens-Thomas House, the Jepson Center and the Telfair Academy. Group tours are available for groups of 10 or more.

For more information, call 912.790.8800 or visit www.telfair.org.

Owens-Thomas House - 124 Abercorn Street, on Oglethorpe Square

Jepson Center - 207 W. York Street, on Telfair Square

Telfair Academy - 121 Barnard Street, on Telfair Square