Savannah renames square after first Black Civil War nurse

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Georgia’s oldest city, Savannah has renamed one of its town squares for the first time in 140 years. Susie King Taylor, born into slavery in 1848, will be the first person of color to be recognized at one of Savannah’s 23 squares.

For the past 170 years, the square has honored former U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun — a vocal slavery advocate. Now, the square will bear the name of a woman that served as a nurse with the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops Infantry Regiment for three years during the American Civil War. While serving, Taylor also taught children and adults how to read.

“It’s one thing to make history. It’s something else to make sense. And in this case, we’re making both,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said.

The Savannah City Council voted to change the name of Calhoun Square last November, following a campaign by local activists. Savannah tour guide Patt Gunn led the campaign over the past three years to have the square renamed after Taylor.

“It’s time for a woman-named square,” Gunn said.

City officials removed any reference to Calhoun from the square shortly after the council’s vote last November. Taylor’s name, however, was not added until nine months later — following nearly a year of City Hall collecting recommendations for the square’s new name.

According to the National Park Service, Taylor was the only African American woman to ever publish a memoir on her wartime experience. As Georgia’s laws vehemently barred the formal education of African Americans, Taylor attended two different schools taught by Black women in secret. She would then go on to educate other African Americans during the war.

Taylor became free at the age of 14, after her uncle led her to a federal gunboat across the waters near Confederate-held Fort Pulaski.