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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Leroy Beavers, August 8, 2002. Interview R-0170. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

1950s high point for black Savannah declines into 1960s decay

Black Savannah at mid-century was separate but equal, Beavers remembers. Black Savannans could live comfortably in their own world, and Beavers enjoyed it. By the 1960s, however, the "golden years" of the 1950s had lost their lustre and the poverty and discrimination that attended segregation had crept into the area.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Leroy Beavers, August 8, 2002. Interview R-0170. 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

LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
My father told me I was born into a house on Bolden Lane. But the house that I remember being a part of anything was Thirty-seventh and Burroughs Street, sort of a half-affluent neighborhood of black folks. It was a popular thing to be from that neighborhood by being black.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Thirty-seventh down here—
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
That's one block west of West Broad Street between Thirty-seventh and Thirty-eighth Street on Burroughs.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yeah, at that time your father's barbershop was where?
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
It was on the corner of Fortieth Lane and West Broad Street.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So just a block up from where we are right now.
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
Yeah. It was the Mecca. West Broad Street was the Mecca. It was the most exciting place that I have ever known. I love it, I still love, I have a love for West Broad Street right now today because West Broad Street has meant a lot to me because I saw things on West Broad Street that I didn't think were possible. They had black doctors, black dentists, black druggists, black grocery store, black shoe stores. Everything was in kind. In other words Savannah was separate, but it was equal. The people in Savannah saw fit that we do have a black population too and we don't want, in some ways they didn't want us to be really downtrodden. So they said, "Well, look here. We'll give one half of Savannah to the whites and the other half to the blacks." We had our own black policemen. We had everything. It was really good in a sense not being racial, I liked it. I liked it being separate but equal. That didn't matter. I didn't mind going to Kress, but I liked going to Dave's Soda Shop even better because it was people that I connected with on West Broad Street. Now the part of West Broad Street that I was raised up basically almost like the red light district, the hustlers, the ladies of the night—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Where was that? That wasn't over on Burroughs.
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
No. That was on West Broad Street.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
And about Thirty-seventh?
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
Right. From okay from Taylor Street and West Broad down to Victory Drive was more or less like the way all the parties were. All the party people would hang out.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So the liquor and the nightclubs.
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
Plenty of liquor. Plenty of clubs. But I was too young to go into them at the time. I didn't start going to clubs as a matter of fact until I was twenty-six. I was in the Army because I didn't, I really didn't have any chance—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You were gone as soon as you turned eighteen.
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
I turned eighteen I had to leave Savannah not because I didn't like it. Just some of the things then I didn't agree with. I mean, I was raised in an era where segregation was coming to an end, integration was coming in. I just figured like I'm just an equal to anybody else that's anyone. Prior to 1950 it was kind of rough for black people in Savannah. But after the '50s, which were the golden years of some people, who want to call the no wars, the good living, two-car garage and chicken in every pot, and then the '60s came along. The '60s was a terrible time for me on MLK on West Broad Street because I saw the decay start setting in. Businesses closing down; a different type of a social life started moving in; a lot of disrespectful things started going on. People just started looking at hating themselves, hate what was going on around them.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You can tell that? You could see that?
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
Yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What do you think was going on? What was that about?
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
Capitalism first and foremost. After they tore the Union Station down, the train station down, that would seem like the beginning of decay of MLK because the Union Station was more or less like the real, the central point at the central hub of what was going on. Up in that area you could get anything. That's where you got your clothes at, you travel to other cities from there and the debarkation and embarkation point of Savannah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
White or black.
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
Right. Everybody—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Would come in.
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
Would come in there. Everybody, even all the funeral homes were around there. Whether you were coming or going, you would go one way or leave one way. But that was the beginning of it. Then it seemed to me like well, this is hard to say, but I hate to talk about white people in that sense. You know what I'm saying but it just seemed like the white folks said, "Okay, we'll capitalize on this. This is what we're going to do. We're going to get, black people've got money too. Let's destroy this. Let's buy up all their places." Let's destroy their business. They've got to come to us now because one time we didn't have to go to them. Matter of fact in a lot of cases, they had to come to us because we were the craftsmen, the master brick masons. We had a few architects. We had all the buildings, all the labor, all the skilled labor. They had to come to us.