Georgia Historical Society Dedicates New Historical Marker Recognizing the Complex Story of American Slavery and Freedom

Staff Report From Georgia CEO

Monday, April 15th, 2024

On Wednesday, April 10, 2024, the Georgia Historical Society (GHS) unveiled a new historical marker, "The Montmollin Building and Bryan School," that recognizes an important site in the history of enslavement, emancipation, and African-American education. The Montmollin Building is an antebellum commercial structure in Savannah that was used as a slave brokerage and later as the Bryan School, one of Georgia’s first legal Black schools. GHS dedicated the new marker in partnership with the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Savannah.

“The story of the Montmollin Building and its many uses reflects the larger history of the American South in all its complexity,” said Dr. W. Todd Groce, Georgia Historical Society President and CEO. “Telling that story in a full and honest way gives us a better understanding of who we are as a nation, which in turn helps us to build a better future.”

Savannah was Georgia’s largest slave trading center and a hub for the regional domestic slave trade by the 1850s. Built around 1856, the Montmollin Building served as an office for John S. Montmollin and Alexander Bryan, who held and sold enslaved Black people there for almost a decade. When the U.S. government confiscated the Montmollin Building during the Civil War, it provided the building to Savannah’s African-American community, which organized the Savannah Educational Association (SEA) to fund and establish schools. Opened in January 1865, Bryan School operated in the Montmollin Building and was one of SEA’s first schools.

"The transition of the Montmollin Building’s use from slave mart to free school in 1865 captures a pivotal moment in history as newly freed African Americans worked to secure their rights and freedoms by forging a path forward through education,” said Luciana Spracher, City of Savannah Municipal Archives Director. “The installation of a historical marker sharing the history of the building and the Bryan School is long overdue, and we look forward to utilizing the marker to share this important story with all our residents and visitors."

The marker dedication took place in Savannah’s City Market, near the Montmollin Building, at 23 Barnard Street. Speakers included Ken Slats, Office of Communications, City of Savannah; Reverend Thurmond Neill Tillman, First African Baptist Church; Dr. W. Todd Groce, President and CEO, Georgia Historical Society; Lillian Grant-Baptiste; Alderman Detric Leggett, District 2, City of Savannah; Honorable Van R. Johnson II, Mayor, City of Savannah; Joseph A. Melder, City Manager, City of Savannah; Reverend Christopher J. Pittman, First Bryan Baptist Church; and Luciana Spracher, Municipal Archives Director, City of Savannah.