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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Floyd Adams, August 16, 2002. Interview R-0168. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Development destroys a black community

Members of the black community in Savannah, though aware of the threat posed by urban renewal, did little to try to prevent it because their mind sets prevented them from questioning the government. Development replaced a functional black community by razing its churches, destroying its businesses, and constructing public housing projects, replacing a middle-class black population with poor residents. He believes there was a racial component to these changes.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Floyd Adams, August 16, 2002. Interview R-0168. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

KIERAN TAYLOR Were there people in the black community that were aware of what was going to take place? FLOYD ADAMS, JR. Well, I guess I was. KIERAN TAYLOR Do you remember? FLOYD ADAMS, JR. There were some protests mostly among the churches, displacement of the churches. That was it. Back in those days you have to understand that my interpretation is that people accepted the government say this, the government say that. It was a combination of two things happening, several combinations if you want to add it all together and think about it. KIERAN TAYLOR What was that? FLOYD ADAMS, JR. The building of I-16 as it came into Savannah as well. You had the historic, the components of it to get part of it, you had the historic district redone. You had the I-16 terminating in that area, and then you had also the rebuilding of the, as you would call it the public housing area where Currytown once existed. Most of those homes in there were rental homes as well, but you displaced those people, but they didn't bring them back. Some of the people moved out into various other areas of the community, and you replaced them with different individuals, and when you get the process of public housing, you lump people together. You put enough stories or whatever. You increase the density of the area, and yet you don't have the same, people with the same mindset. Although people lived in Currytown, they lived on dirt streets and what have you. They kept their surroundings clean, and everybody was manageable and everything else. Everybody looked out for each other and did things for each other and that type thing. It was a community within a community if you want to call it that. So we lost that type of significance of that area. We've learned, I think we've learned quite a bit about that when we should have gone back to single family homes or a couple of duplexes rather than build the way we did presently. I think you will have a much better community from an aesthetic point of view and maybe a cultural diverse community than you have right now. In essence what you did was replace blacks with blacks but poor blacks. KIERAN TAYLOR So you think the new projects that were built though it was drawing from a different pool of people? FLOYD ADAMS, JR. You drew from a different pool of people although they were, most of these people were scattered throughout the city. They sort of brought them in and lumped them all together. KIERAN TAYLOR Then Currytown was kind of dispersed. FLOYD ADAMS, JR. Dispersed. Right. Currytown, Frogtown, parts of old Yamacraw, all that was dispersed. The only church that they were able to save was First African Baptist Church, not First, First Bryan Baptist Church down in the heart. We lost the mother church of the AME church, Saint Phillip Monumental. We lost Saint Paul CME Church. We lost quite a few major facilities, and I mean buildings, historical buildings, and that has always been my argument with the historic Savannah people. Where were you at when you're talking about saving all of these buildings? Where were you, you didn't save the original black churches and some of the architectural treasures that we had then. So where were you then? KIERAN TAYLOR Which also I guess could've served as an anchor because you had, even if people lived in other neighborhoods, they could come home to church. FLOYD ADAMS, JR. That's right come home to church and serve as an anchor. But you displaced buildings, businesses as well. You displaced Savannah Pharmacy who moved over on the other side of West Broad Street. You displaced most of the thriving businesses, the doctor's offices and other things that served these people. You displaced them. You totally moved them out of the neighborhood. So who did they have to rely on. It made them more dependent on the larger superstores, and you made them more dependent on businesses located outside, but also what you did was take the wealth away from those African-American businesses that were already relocated there. Some of them took the money, relocated and then failed because they didn't have their clientele that they once had as well. KIERAN TAYLOR To what degree was this by design? FLOYD ADAMS, JR. I don't know. Really, I haven't done the research on it and to be quite frank with you, but it seemed you want to say racial, then it could be racial. But in somebody's mind who came up with all this idea thought that they were creating a good thing for the city. So you have to weigh it from that perspective. Unfortunately and I'm just speculating on this aspect of it, but the banks did not give the support to the black businesses who had to relocate that they did to some of the Jewish-owned grocery stores or what have you. They did not do that. They simply got I think because they were black. They were white. Like I stated previously some of the former Jewish storeowners the Malavers, the Sadlers who had stores within the community used that as a stepping stone to reach out and expand their operation based on the money they received from the government in relocation businesses and what have you. So you can look at it from that perspective, and some people may argue the point differently. But I see it from that point of view. They stepped out. That was their launching pad if you see. KIERAN TAYLOR So they were able to take advantage of the emerging markets in the southern part of the city. FLOYD ADAMS, JR. Right, they were. They were. Also you got rid of a lot of the black-owned restaurants and everything else, the food catering places. When that came through, you knocked basically every major concern of black business out of operation so to speak that was on West Broad Street. The dry-cleaning there. You had Chick's newsstand. You had the chicken fry place right on the corner there. All those businesses even the bakery, there's a bakery shop there. They took that money and launched and moved over in another area and made money off of the lot which is gone now, but they had their launching from that money and relocated and did business elsewhere until the family sort of broke up and they went out of business. But like I say other people used that as a launching tool to go do things. KIERAN TAYLOR So they were able to use the federally mandated relocation money. FLOYD ADAMS, JR. So they helped themselves and were able to do better. The black businesses did not because they lost their clientele that they dealt with. Personally, and I agree with Mr. Law on his concept, they could've maintained the role of black-owned businesses on MLK and build those public houses behind MLK and still succeeded.