The city council of Savannah, Georgia, voted Thursday to rename a downtown square after Susie King Taylor, a Black woman who once taught slaves to read and write.
The change marks the first time a Savannah square has been specifically named after a woman and a person of color.
“It’s one thing to make history, it’s another thing to make sense, and in this case, we’re making both,” Savannah Mayor Van R. Johnson II said during Thursday’s city council meeting.
Susie King Taylor was born to enslaved parents in 1848. She moved to Savannah when she was seven to live with her grandmother, who arranged for her to receive clandestine schooling due to Georgia’s severe restrictions on education, according to the Library of Congress.
During the Civil War, she became an Army nurse and organized a school to teach emancipated slaves to read and write. She later opened more schools for Black students and wrote a memoir about her experience during the war as an African American woman.
The town square that will now bear her name is a popular tourist attraction in Georgia’s oldest city in the state. The square was originally named after John C. Calhoun, a former vice president of the United States who owned slaves and defended the institution of slavery.
“What he stood for is not what Savannah stands for,” Johnson said.
The effort to change the square’s name began in 2021, according to the Coalition to Rename Calhoun Square. The council voted to rename the square last year and considered 300 name submissions before choosing Taylor.
In 2020, a statue of Calhoun was removed from a square in Charleston, South Carolina. Clemson University also removed his name from its honors college, CNN previously reported. The university was built on Calhoun’s plantation.
Johnson said the city will be installing signage not only about Taylor’s accomplishments but Calhoun’s history and the reason why his name was replaced.
“It’s important that we don’t erase history, it’s important that people who come long after us understand the time that we are in today,” Johnson said.