Open daily. Free admission. Leashed dogs welcome.
See below: full visitor information
Laurel Grove South is an important space in Savannah’s African American history. Historically split between its its black section (Laurel Grove South) and its white section (now Laurel Grove North), the two parts of the burial ground were created together in 1852. Today, they are divided by a highway.
In the mid-19th century, Savannah created both North and South sections of Laurel Grove Cemetery out of former plantation land. Medical professionals of the time considered wet rice culture a disease risk, blaming sickness-carrying “miasmas” produced in standing water for Savannah’s frequent epidemics (mosquitos had not yet been identified as a disease vector).
Four acres of the original cemetery area (the lowest, most ill-drained portion, and the furthest from the city) were set aside for the burial of Savannah’s African-Americans, slave and free; the acreage was shortly afterwards increased to 15, and then doubled again a few years later (the present-day 90-acre burial ground is roughly the same size as its neighbor).
The new “colored portion” of Laurel Grove (as it was then known) replaced an earlier African-American graveyard located around present-day Calhoun and Whitefield Squares, which stood in the way of the southwards expansion of Savannah’s square plan.
Over the years, Laurel Grove South was used to inter the majority of Savannah’s black citizens, including many of the figures most influential in shaping the African-American community and later, its Civil Rights movement. It is one of the largest African-American cemeteries in the southeast.
What To See
The institution of slavery in the United States was abolished a decade after Laurel Grove came into active use. The majority of enslaved people who had lived in Savannah were not therefore buried in Laurel Grove.
Many slaves who died in Savannah were buried in the graveyard set aside for African-Americans, located around the present-day Whitefield and Calhoun Squares. Then known as the "Old Negro Burial Grounds," this cemetery was closed – along with its white counterpart, now called Colonial Park Cemetery – in 1853.
The site of the old black cemetery was laid out in streets and building lots; many of the grave markers (along with some, but likely not many, of the actual remains) were removed to Laurel Grove. These, together with the graves of enslaved people who died in the few years between the opening of Laurel Grove and the abolition of slavery, can be seen in the old portion of the cemetery, around the area bounded by First and Fourth Avenues and George and Booker Streets (these streets are within the cemetery – see this map).
Andrew Bryan, 1737-1812
Reverend Andrew Bryan is one of Savannah’s most important historical figures, a founder of the city’s First African Baptist Church, one of the oldest black congregations in the country. Many of Savannah’s other African-American churches have their origins in First African Baptist.
Bryan was born a slave in South Carolina, but later moved to Savannah where he became influenced by the preacher George Liele. With his brother Sampson, he became part of and later led a small congregation of enslaved people on the plantations around Savannah, using for meetings a building provided by their owner, Jonathan Bryan.
First African Baptist Church, established in the 1770s, grew out of this congregation, but not without significant hardships for the Bryan brothers, who endured whippings and other punishments for their role in the creation of one of Savannah’s oldest churches.
Henry Cunningham, 1759-1842
Henry Cunningham was a minister and businessman, influential in the development of the African-American community on Savannah’s east side.
Cunningham was the first leader of the Second African Baptist Church, which organized in 1802, serving the church for most of the four decades from that year until his death. Many of Savannah’s most notable black ministers were trained in the Second African Baptist Church, many of them under Henry Cunningham himself.
Alongside his church activities, Cunningham was a successful businessman, making himself into one of the wealthiest free black men in the city and the owner of several properties (including slaves).
Jane Deveaux, c1810-1885
Jane Deveaux devoted much of her life to providing an education for African-American children in Savannah.
Before emancipation, schooling for black children was illegal (amongst other things, whites feared that if slaves were able to read, they would be better able to organize and rebel). Clandestine schools, conducted in secret, were a way for African-American children, both slave and free, to learn to read and acquire a basic education.
Deveaux ran one of these schools (her mother had done the same) for several years before the Civil War, passing as a pastry cook in her everyday life. After the war she continued her work as an educator, now able to operate a legal school for African-American children.
WW (Westley Wallace) Law, 1923-2002
WW Law was a noted civil rights activist, born in Savannah on January 1 1923. A mail carrier for most of his working life, and an activist for longer, Law is remembered for his influential role in Savannah’s Civil Rights movement.
A community leader and firm believer in non-violent resistance to segregation and oppression, Law served as president of the Savannah NAACP, took an important role in the desegregation of public schools, and in his later life promoted the study of black history and culture.
WW Law died on July 29 2002. He was buried – according to his own wishes – without public ceremony or monument, beside his mother in the cemetery he had, amongst his many other accomplishments, worked to restore.
Laurel Grove South Cemetery is administered by the City of Savannah. See the official webpage or call the cemetery department at 912-651-6843 for additional information.
Laurel Grove South is located to the southwest of Savannah’s Historic District, about 2-3 miles from most other downtown attractions. The South and North parts of the cemetery have separate entrances. See on map
Address 2101 Kollock Street, Savannah, GA 31415
GPS coordinates (entrance) N 32.061355, W -081.112776
Opening hours Open daily, 8am-5pm.
Admission Admission is free.
Pets Leashed pets are welcome at Laurel Grove Cemetery.