III. Savannah

“Savannah is like a beautiful woman with a dirty face.” – Lady Astor

Kavita: “Savannah is such a beautiful place. I’d love to go back and spend some more time there.”

Troy: “I was gonna ask Martina to convince y’all to come to Savannah for St. Patrick’s Day, but she’ll probably be out of town. It’s the second biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the world, and people from all over come to celebrate. Savannah has always been a beautiful place to visit. It’s just . . . living there you get involved in all the politics and see things firsthand, and it makes your stomach churn. From what I hear, they done let outside developers buy up ninety percent of the historic district. They mostly just hire their own people for teachers and counselors and hire people from Savannah as food service personnel, maintenance men, things like that. They’re not really bringing good jobs for the citizens of the city.

“Savannah has a dark underbelly and a dark history. My mom told me about the First African Baptist Church and how they would steal slaves via a tunnel under the Savannah River. Slave owners would come to the church and search for slaves, but they didn’t know about the secret basement. Many slaves bound for Charleston went through Savannah. You can still see remnants of the racist history. There’s a white graveyard and a black graveyard, and when the white one got too full, they’d put white graves in the front of the black graveyard and move the black graves to the back. There were caves where they brought slaves and threw food at them through a hole, but they’ve been paved over and turned into government parking lots. That really upset Martina because this is part of our history and should be preserved.

“I remember walking through one of the town squares when I was a kid. There was a noose on the right side of the square. I asked someone in city hall why it was there, and she said it was probably for historical reasons. But to be honest, most places I can’t remember just from seeing the pictures. For years I’ve blocked Savannah out so that I wouldn’t miss being free so much or remember the racism it carries. ”

Kavita: “What was Savannah like when you were growing up?”

Troy: “It has changed a lot. When we were kids, we would often find an alligator asleep in the middle of the road, so we’d take a chance and jump over it. There was a rumor that if you go inside the memorial tomb in the cemetery, the spirit in there would trap you in the tomb forever. Even at noon, the back of the tomb was completely dark, and it made this eerie sound when the wind picked up.

“There’s Newton Bridge, which was finished right before they moved me down here. I saw it for the first and last time from the back seat of the car that took me to death row. There were many stores on MLK: antique shops, pawn shops, those kinds of places. Those have all been replaced with banks. It used to take forty-five minutes to get from the east side to the south side, but now it takes under fifteen because of the new overpass. At least, that’s what Martina tells me.

“The river is up north, while the east and west are predominantly black areas. When I was growing up, if you were black and went to the south side after 11:00 PM, they’d run you out. Overall though, I lived a very privileged life. We had a real beautiful neighborhood where the kids would play football, basketball, hopscotch, and baseball. I was a good kid. I always cut the grass, fed the dog, cleaned my room, and took out the trash. I did my best to help my neighbors. I had neighbors whose kids were in prison, so I would cut their grass for a reduced price. I’d visit them during the holidays and reminisce about their kids, talk to their kids on the phone, and sometimes visit them in jail. There was a kid named Earl whose father drowned. I used to take him to the park, watch over him and give him advice, and take him and all the other kids to get ice cream. But life started changing in the late eighties. Drugs became more and more prevalent in Savannah, even in the suburbs. Soon everybody knew somebody either using or selling drugs. The whole city started to change.”

Kavita: “Did you often have issues with the police?”

Troy: “There were some black police officers in Savannah. I knew them because I played for the police athletic league when I was coming up, as my dad worked for the police department. I honestly thought that when they said they were looking for me I could go in there, tell them it wasn’t me, answer their questions, and that would be it. But it didn’t turn out like that.”

Previous: Part II, Section XIX

Next: Part III, Section II

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