Rest with Honor Savannah is a historical social justice initiative working to commemorate an unmarked colonial 'Negro / African Burying Ground' located in the center of Savannah, Georgia. The burial ground was designated in 1763 and is now 258 years old.
In 1732 Georgia was founded as a "no slavery" colony. In 1751 Georgia overturned its ban on slavery and began importing enslaved labor from West Africa and the Caribbean. The plantations and the enslaved people that worked on them created the foundation of the American economy.
Additional slave labor included African-Americans who were owned by the City of Savannah or “rented out" by their Master. “Free” people of color were required by law to work for the City one day a week for free.
From 1763 - 1850 the Negro / African Burial Ground was the only place Black people were legally allowed to be buried in Savannah.
In 1850 the City of Savannah closed the Negro / African Burying Ground and redesigned the space as two public squares (parks) - without moving the buried bodies.
One of the squares was named Whitefield Square in honor of Reverend George Whitefield, who was one of the founders of the Methodist church and one of the primary people responsible for overturning Georgia’s ban on slavery.
The other square was named Calhoun Square in honor of John C. Calhoun, the fierce pro-slavery Vice President of the United States and the Confederate icon responsible for creating the philosophy of State’s Rights, nullification and secession from the Union.
In 2017, Lauri Lyons extensive historical research and detective work unearthed the present-day location of the burial ground. She was able to obtain a Georgia Bureau of Investigation forensic report about a colonial slave skull found at the site. The Savannah Municipal Archives signed an official research statement, confirming that the City only has records of two bodies exhumed from the burial ground.
The Petition Rest With Honor launched a petition in July 2020 to bring attention to the burial ground and correct the social injustice.
The petition is a call of action for the City of Savannah government officials to do the following:
1. Officially recognize the (2) squares as a colonial African burial ground.
2. Rename Calhoun Square and Whitefield Square.
3. Place information markers in the squares.
4. Protect the African burial ground via the National Park Service or as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
5. Build a memorial for the burial ground.
What We’ve Accomplished So Far: 1. Our research has been verified by a historian and archivist.
2. The Municipal Archives has confirmed that the deceased Africans are currently buried in Calhoun and Whitefield squares.
3. A geographer has spatially confirmed and certified the geographic location of the burial ground.
4. Obtained a Georgia Bureau of Investigation forensic report and analysis of a colonial skull found at the site.
5. Launched an online petition for people to sign and support the initiative.
6. Launched social media @restwithhonorsavannah IG and Facebook.
Support Reverend Robert Lee IV, a descendant of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee publicly stated, “On behalf of myself as a descendant of a slave owner and a descendant of a Confederate General, I want to emphatically and unconditionally call for this change to happen in Savannah. The time is now to address what is happening in our country, but in our past as well, and to be honest with it.”
The Savannah African Art Museum officially supports the Rest With Honor Savannah initiative, and is participating in gathering petition signatures for the renaming of the squares.
Savannah’s African Burial Ground is central to America's narrative about race, religion, and war. It deserves to be officially commemorated as a major part of American History.