'I have to push forward:' Effort to change Savannah's Calhoun Square's name nears finish line


A petition to rename Calhoun Square to Jubilee Square has made progress but is not yet ready for consideration by Savannah City Council.

The group pushing the effort, the Center for Jubilee, Reconciliation and Healing, needs to get signatures from 51% of the property owners in the surrounding area and attain a letter of endorsement from one of four elected officials.

The square in question, Calhoun Square, is named for John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina politician, U.S. vice president and a fierce advocate for slavery in the United States.

The greenspace that bears his name is the southernmost square on Abercorn Street, two blocks northeast of Forsyth Park and across Gordon Street from the Massie School Heritage Center. The square is not far from a burial ground that was the designated cemetery for both free and enslaved people of color, the Center for Jubilee points out in its application,

Center Co-founders Patt Gunn and Rosalyn Rouse have been working on this project for months, and the nearby residents' signatures were initially something they decided to forego after some legal advice.

In the city ordinance for renaming public spaces, these signatures are required to change the name of “a park, playground, trail, recreational area or space.” Since the word “square” is not explicitly used in these descriptors, Gunn and company decided not to seek the signatures.

But after filing the initial name change proposal forms in May, the city has asked that the Center get the signatures. Gunn said it would take 19 signatures to get the 51% required for the name change.

Gunn and Rouse planned for the contingency and will solicit those signatures in the same way they’ve done everything so far: through grassroots, door-to-door outreach.

The group hosts an event called Come Sunday on the third Sunday of every month in Calhoun Square. These events were already a community outreach effort, where the Saltwata Players play music and Gunn and Rouse provide updates to the process.

The July event will be held on the second Sunday, July 11, due to a scheduling conflict, Gunn said. And after the event, the signature outreach will begin.


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Gunn said she’s assembling a team of community members and local religious leaders to canvass the neighborhood after the event. The group plans to leave postcards at the houses and businesses surrounding the square beforehand, so residents know they’re coming on July 11.

“If a neighbor answers the door, we'll talk to them. If not, then we'll leave the information,” Gunn said.

Gunn said she plans to tell the story of the work done so far, such as research into the former burial grounds for enslaved people and its proximity to Calhoun Square as well as the Center's efforts to rename it.

“This square is sacred ground. And we want to rename and honor those that are entombed there,” Gunn said.


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Additionally, the Center also needs an endorsement of the name change from one of four council members — either at-large Alderwomen Alicia Blakely or Kesha Gibson-Carter; the representative for the district where the square is located, District 2 Alderman Detric Leggett; or Mayor Van Johnson.

Gunn said she hopes to have the endorsement secured by July 11 so the letter can be signed at the Come Sunday event.

Once those two pieces of the process are complete — and the group submits a check for $150 to the city as a processing fee  — the name change proposal can go before city council for a vote.

Despite the finish line being so close, Gunn said there’s still work to do, and she has no plans to slow down.

“I have to push forward. It's bigger than me or any of the folks who are in our coalition. It's something that has to be done, for history’s sake,” Gunn said. “Our ancestors need to be honored, and in a graceful way, and right now, we are not able to rest until this is done. It’s something that is not negotiable, in terms of righteousness.”

Will Peebles is the enterprise reporter for Savannah Morning News. He can be reached at wpeebles@gannett.com and @willpeeblessmn on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: 'I have to push forward:' Effort to change Savannah's Calhoun Square's name nears finish line