400 years after slavery began, Savannah tour guide keeps local history alive

South Carolina News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) ⁠— Anyone following along with Patt “Sistah Patt” Gunn from River Street up through Johnson Square will get a glimpse of what it was like living hundreds of years ago in Georgia’s oldest city.

The stories she tells as she carries her rainstick on her Underground Tours of Savannah take a look back at her Gullah Geechee ancestors’ ordeals in a time of slavery, which is a significant, yet dark part of the city’s history. 

Savannah was a key port of entry for slaves in the United States. It’s a history not too often discussed, and Gunn says it’s part of why she started the tour.

“Underground Tours was created to put the history back,” she told her tour group on Thursday at their fitting meeting point — the African-American Monument near the Hyatt Regency hotel, erected in 2002.

Patricia Boyd, an attendee visiting from New York, told News 3 she joined the tour to learn more about African-American history and Savannah, and how it’s still impacting lives today.

We have a chance to reflect. We have to acknowledge it happened, we have to reconcile and heal from it.”

Patt “Sistah Patt” Gunn, Underground Tours of Savannah

“It’s very important because it’s not taught in schools,” Boyd said. “In light of what’s going on now with the culture, with the country, many of our African-American youth feel they’re so disenfranchised and it seems like sometimes, there’s a sense of hopelessness.”

“But I think once more of these tours happen, then it really lets them know that if our ancestors succeeded in making an impact, then we have no excuse, we can also succeed and we can also contribute to society,” Boyd added.

Gunn guided attendees along the short walk filled with fascinating tales of history, from the Factors Walk area, where “cotton was king,” to the city’s three whipping stations and to Bay Street, where the first slaves in America were freed. 

The very cobblestones on which the group walked across River Street held pieces of history. 

“To the left and right,” Gunn pointed out as the group crossed the road, “those are absolutely not cobblestones, those are ballast stones that have come out of the slave ships.”

Attendees of the Underground Tours of Savannah were treated to a performance of “Wade in the Water” by the tour guides.

All tour information is pulled directly from the City of Savannah’s Municipal Archives, Gunn says.

“The African leadership participated in sending our people over here,” she shared with the group as they stood along the Savannah River. “They said it was a particular kind of slave trade where they go from tribe to tribe, and send people back after two years.”

They didn’t send the slaves back, Gunn said, and slavery took place in Savannah for 116 years.

Tuesday, Aug. 20, marked the 400th anniversary of slavery in the U.S. To acknowledge the anniversary, The New York Times released The 1619 Project, which reexamined the legacy of slavery 400 years later.

Savannah was highlighted in the project as part of writer and historian Anne Bailey’s excerpt from her book on the Weeping Time, an event that took place in Savannah 160 years ago this past March.

It was the largest slave auction in the history of the U.S. and was held at the Ten Broeck Race Course in Savannah.

“We’re excited about the whole project,” Gunn told News 3. “Savannah is going to be part of the conversation, so it’s good that they have indicated that through these writings.”

Visitors equipped with new knowledge of Savannah may leave the tour viewing the beautiful city in a different light, but Gunn doesn’t want any negative feelings to come from her educational tour.

“We have a chance to reflect, we have to acknowledge it happened, we have to reconcile and heal from it, and I think that if we can heal from it, Savannah could be a model for the nation for healing, and that’s one of the reasons we started our tour,” Gunn said. “We want to reconcile and heal, and we can only do that through truth!”

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