The Talmadge Memorial Bridge soars over the Savannah River, linking South Caroilna with Georgia. The bridge is one of Savannah’s most distinctive landmarks. (AJC file)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Citing Talmadge racism, Savannah votes to change iconic bridge’s name

Savannah’s City Council on Thursday passed a resolution to change the name of the city’s towering Talmadge Memorial Bridge to the Savannah Bridge. The measure said the bridge was named for a 1930s-era segregationist governor who is not a “reflection of modern Georgia.”

» The racial transformation of Georgia

On a unanimous voice vote and after minimal discussion, the council voted to ask the state Legislature to approve changing the name.

Gov. Eugene Talmadge bites his cigar at a Democratic National Committee meeting in Washington in 1936 file photo. (AP file photo)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach, who proposed the change shortly after the violence in Charlottesville, Va., in August, invoked the Book of Ecclesiastes at Thursday’s meeting. 

“For everything there is a season,” DeLoach read. “A time to keep and a time to cast away…. This scripture reminds us that seasons change, and we as a nation have to change. … We will drive over this bridge which leads to our city and will no longer be named for a man who divided us.”

The bridge, one of Savannah’s most distinctive landmarks, rises 576 feet above the Savannah River, including about 185 feet from water to roadway. The bridge is tall enough that a giant container ship — said to be the largest ever to visit the East Coast — was able to pass beneath it in May.

The resolution that passed on Thursday says the bridge “dominates the Savannah skyline, serving as one of the most important landmarks in the city.”

The giant container ship COSCO Development passes under the Talmadge Bridge (barely) in May 2017. The ship is the largest vessel ever to call on a port on the U.S. East Coast. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Gov. Eugene Talmadge won four terms during the Thirties and Forties, although he died before he could start his fourth term. In an interview with the Associated Press’s Greg Bluestein in 2007, University of Georgia historian Robert Pratt said of Talmadge: “It’s fair to say he’s one of the most virulently racist governors the state has ever had.”

Bluestein, now an AJC reporter, reported at the time that the FBI had investigated whether Talmadge sanctioned the Moores Ford lynching in 1946, in which four African-Americans were tied to a tree and shot.

Prosecutor Dan Duke, right, confronts Gov. Gene Talmadge with a whip that was used by the Ku Klux Klan to beat African-Americans. After Duke won convictions against several Klansmen, Talmadge signaled he would grant them clemency. (File image)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Herman Talmadge, Gene’s equally famous son and later a long-serving U.S. senator, was reputed to have said that many people in Georgia would follow Gene Talmadge into hell, while many others wanted to send him there.

Savannah activist Ron Christopher told the council that his organization Span the Gap has sought “to have the Talmadge bridge named for something more appropriate for Savannah, for who we are and what we are.”

Christopher said, “I could not be more pleased with the example that our mayor, our aldermen, indeed our city, are setting today, in light of what’s happening all around our country. This is symbolic, but it’s an important symbolic step for our city and our country.”

Note: Commenting on this article is being moderated by AJC editors.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.