Savannah city leaders will have more than a dozen monikers to choose from when they decide how to rename a historic town square later this year.
Officials this week released a shortlist of 15 potential names for the former Calhoun Square, corresponding to 15 publicly submitted applications which city staff deemed to have met the necessary criteria for consideration.
Ever since the Savannah City Council voted last November to remove former Vice President John C. Calhoun’s name from the square — on the grounds that he was a staunch supporter of slavery and had no major ties to Savannah — the one-acre square near Forsyth Park has been without a name (and without a sign).
The public can provide written feedback on the 15 applications (listed at the bottom of this article) by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two city commissions plan to review the applications over the summer: the Park and Tree Commission in July and the Historic Site and Monument Commission in August. Each will hear public comment and make a recommendation to the Savannah City Council.
Then in August or September, councilmembers will consider the commissions’ recommendations, hear public comment and come to a final determination by vote.
Below are edited excerpts from each of the 15 applications, listed in alphabetical order (by last name, if a person) of the proposed namesake:
Robert Sengstacke Abbott (founder of the historically Black newspaper The Chicago Defender)
- Application submitted by Martha Keber: “Born into humble circumstances on St. Simons Island in 1868, the son of formerly enslaved parents, Abbott seemed an unlikely challenger to the racist status quo that prevailed in Georgia and throughout the Jim Crow South at the beginning of the 20th century. Yet through hard work and determination, Abbott rose to national prominence as founder and editor of the influential Black newspaper The Chicago Defender. In the words of Langston Hughes, Abbott’s Defender became the ‘voice of the voiceless.’ It was always Abbott’s intent to defend the Black race from social, political, and economic injustice. As a northern newspaper, the Defender had more freedom to denounce issues outright, and its editorial position attacked racial inequities head-on.”
Maj. Clayton Carpenter (U.S. Army veteran who died at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah)
- Application submitted by Jon Ternstrom: “During a night operation in an MH-60M helicopter, a tail rotor failure caused Maj. Carpenter and his crew to enter a rapid, unrecoverable spin. In his final moments, Carpenter strained against immense centrifugal force to cut engine power, ultimately laying his life down while saving his crew. I know all this because I am one of many who was fortunate enough to have known Major Carpenter and one of few to have been on board that fateful night when he made the ultimate sacrifice. I cannot begin to comprehend the amount of bravery and care that such decisive action must have taken, but I am left eternally humbled and grateful for it. Clayton’s golden valor and character are the reason why I am here today. The reason why I can now proudly watch my son go off to college this coming semester and why another crewmember can celebrate the birth of his daughter and son.”
Dr. John Aloysius Casey (19th-century physician)
- Application submitted by Andrew Jones: “Dr. Casey gave his life to treat the victims of a yellow fever epidemic from 1819 to 1821. His humanitarianism towards the Savannah community, including its African American population, embodies the ideals that we citizens of Savannah revere. Not only is Casey the polar opposite of Calhoun, but Casey also has a specific connection to the burial ground in that the deceased likely include the very people he worked to save. In 1817, Casey, together with other doctors in Savannah, started the raising of funds for the first African American hospital, which ultimately came to fruition as the Georgia Infirmary in 1832.”
Leo Center (former Savannah alderman)
- Application submitted by Tony Center: “Savannah’s Jewish community prospered and multiplied, producing prominent business, professional, and civic leaders. Then came Leo Center, who was elected alderman by the citizenry to five consecutive terms from 1970 until he resigned in 1990. During his tenure, Leo served as vice chair of City Council and mayor pro tem. Medical professionals, legal professionals and business leaders, along with Leo Center, pushed and fought for political and civil rights for all Savannahians, particularly African Americans. Leo also founded the local chapter of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and took local leaders, including Pastor Matthew Southall Brown and Congressman Lindsay Thomas, to Israel.”
Creek (Native American tribe)
- Application submitted by Angel Brayboy: “Historical information indicates that Gen. James Oglethorpe negotiated a treaty with the indigenous people of the Lower Creek tribe for the transfer of land, thus initiating Savannah’s colonization. Due to the fact that Savannah’s native indigenous presence was never the same after this treaty came into effect, it is only right for any portion of land in the Historic District to be committed to the Lower Creeks and all other tribes residing in this region at that time. It is my belief that this designation is one of the most honorable things modern-day Savannah can do, and it would definitely serve as a ‘welcome back’ symbol for all Native Americans who have hesitated to ever live in Savannah again.”
Aspasia Cruvellier Mirault (African American entrepreneur and industrialist)
- Application submitted by Jack White: “She was a person of color and used her entrepreneurial skills and assets available to her to be successful. The Mirault family contributed valuably to Savannah architecture, provided pastry shops, barber shops and clothing needs. She did use slave labor at the time, as well as others, starting with [Virginia colonist] Anthony Johnson and other prominent people of color.”
Jane Deveaux (African American educator and abolitionist)
- Application submitted by Rita Fuller-Yates: “Though it was illegal to educate slaves in 19th-century America, there were several schools in Savannah during the Antebellum era, and many were raided and shut down. Deveaux’s lasted the longest. Black children would hide their books in buckets or paper bags and pretend they would learn a trade. The punishment for Blacks teaching or learning was a hefty fine and a public lashing. Deveaux and her mother ran her school for 30 years. She was much admired and respected in the African American community, and is well deserving of this honor.”
Hostess City of the South (nickname for Savannah)
- Application submitted by Robert H. Fennell Jr.: “We are living in a period of extreme critical opinions. Instead of renaming this square for a person, it is hereby strongly recommended that the square be named for a characteristic or theme that will unite all citizens of the great city of Savannah, Georgia. If not ‘Hostess City of the South,’ maybe ‘Unity,’ ‘Liberty,’ ‘Freedom,’ etc.”
Susie King Taylor (African American nurse, veteran and educator)
- Application submitted by Susie King Taylor Center for Jubilee Inc.: “Taylor’s accomplishments range from joining the United States Union Army as a young, enslaved 14-year-old girl and participating in military expeditions and camp life, nursing the Colored troops both within the Union and Confederate side, as well as teaching them and the women and children in the camps to read and write, and later running her own private day and night schools in Savannah until the first school for African Americans was built in Savannah after Emancipation. She is the first and only African American woman to publish her memoirs of her life in the Civil War in the United States. Naming the square after Taylor will also commemorate the local history and strengthen the neighborhood identity by openly acknowledging that there are hundreds of enslaved Africans buried in the vicinity of Calhoun and Whitefield Squares.”
W. W. Law (African American civil rights activist)
- Application submitted by Albert Oetgen: “Law was arguably the most influential Savannahian of the 20th century. Not only did he lead what has been praised as the singularly peaceful desegregation of Savannah’s public facilities and private businesses; he became involved in historic preservation efforts designed to preserve African American history and prevent displacement of low-income families. His efforts combined the two most historically significant developments of 20th-century Savannah: the civil rights and historic preservation movements. Together, these reforms set the stage for an economic renaissance grounded in the explosive growth of tourism, filmmaking and, most recently, the attraction of new and diverse industries to the city and immediate region.”
The Rev. George Leile (African American preacher and missionary)
- Application submitted by Leroy Pace Jr.: “Savannah’s Black history in large part was centered around the church. Therefore, it is with great enthusiasm that I submit this application to rename Calhoun Square to Rev. George Leile Square. Leile in 1773 preached up and down the Savannah River, before constituting the First Colored Baptist Church in 1777. He was freed just before the start of the American Revolutionary War and would later make his way to Jamaica and become the first missionary of the United States of America.”
Mary Musgrove (Native American negotiator and interpreter)
- Application submitted by Guinevere Waite: “Growing up, the only woman I had to look up to was Juliette Gordon Low. Any time I learned the history of Savannah, it was always about something a man was known for. I don’t remember ever being taught anything about Mary Musgrove in school. She was someone I’d learned about on my own. I’d like to see more women honored within the community. Savannah is like a melting pot for all races, religions and sexual orientations. I’d like to see more diversity recognized in our history. Honoring a Native American woman, Mary Musgrove, would be a great start to changing a negative into a positive. Musgrove acted as interpreter to General Oglethorpe, the ‘founder’ of Savannah. Mixed with Native American and European, she spoke both languages and helped promote peace and settle disagreements between natives and colonists. She went on to own several trading posts. Her most famous post was excavated in 2002, revealing much about Native American culture.”
- Application submitted by Joan L. Levy of Savannah: “These patriots have long been neglected in the eye of the public that visits our historic city and should be recognized for posterity. Mordecai Sheftall was a Georgia merchant who served as a colonel in the Continental Army during the American Revolution and was the highest ranking Jewish officer of the colonial forces. He was a leader in the revolutionary movement against the British in Georgia and was recognized as an important outstanding citizen in Savannah. He and his son, Sheftall Sheftall, were captured during the Siege of Savannah and became British prisoners of war in Antigua until their release in 1780. After the Revolution, Mordecai Sheftall was one of the foremost reorganizers of the Savannah Jewish congregation of Mickve Israel, and was largely instrumental in securing the first enclosed Jewish burial ground in the city.”
The Seven Sisters (historic preservation activists)
- Application submitted by Sandy Keck Everette of Savannah: “Gratitude from the people who love Savannah is owed to seven extraordinary and determined ladies who inspired our city in the 1950s to organize to save the beautiful homes and buildings that had been neglected and were now being considered for new construction and parking lots. After the historic City Market building in Ellis Square was demolished, in 1955 these seven ladies joined together to organize historic Savannah and save the 1820s Isaiah Davenport house on Columbia Square, which was slated to be torn down to create a parking lot. These ladies were able to raise $22,500 to buy the neglected home and stop the demolitions.”
John and Charles Wesley (founders of Methodism)
- Application submitted by Judy Bradley: “John Wesley and Charles Wesley came to Savannah in 1735, shortly after the founding of Georgia. The brothers were the founders of the Methodist Church. They began the movement that became Methodism in the 1730s. The Wesleys opposed slavery, as indicated in John Wesley’s Thoughts Upon Slavery, where he called slavery ‘complicated villainy’ and noted ‘that slave-holding is utterly inconsistent with mercy, is almost too plain to need a proof.’”
More information on the renaming process of the former Calhoun Square can be found on the city’s website.
This story comes to The Current GA through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.