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Emerging Freedom: Mapping African American history in Bulloch County

Unveiling hidden histories! Dive into the rich tapestry of African American history in Bulloch County with Savannah Chastain's groundbreaking research. Join Grice Connects Michele LeBlanc on a journey of discovery as she explores untold stories of resilience and community.
GS Grad Student Savannah Chastain speaks to the BCHS

During the most recent Bulloch County Historical Society (BCHS) program, members were introduced to an exhibit curated by Georgia Southern student Savannah Chastain entitled "Emerging Freedom: Mapping African American history in Bulloch County." BCHS attendees were treated to a captivating exploration of our county's past. The exhibit is located temporarily at the Georgia Southern Museum and will soon find a permanent home at the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center.

Chastain, a graduate student pursuing her Master of Arts in History, has poured her heart and soul into this project. As a first-generation college graduate, Chastain's dedication to her work shines through as she strives to uncover the hidden stories of African Americans in Bulloch County.

Chastain shared, "Work ethic and drive is what motivates me, knowing that I can do more than what society thinks I should be.”

BCHS Members at the meeting. Michele LeBlanc

During Monday's program, about 40-45 members and guests enjoyed a traditional Southern fried chicken lunch, served and catered by A Touch of Class catering. We enjoyed salad, fried chicken (with the pulley bone), macaroni and cheese, green beans, yeast rolls with butter, banana pudding, and sweet or unsweetened tea. Beyond delicious!

Chastain shared her very detailed and eloquent presentation with the use of story maps and historical community data, shedding light on the integral role that physical locations play in understanding our shared history.

Local churches, for example, have maintained cemeteries in rural communities. These buildings often served as religious institutions, educational facilities, and community meeting places, and worked as one unit to preserve the social history of Bulloch County. Cemeteries represent not only the dead but a living, thriving community as well.

Historical mapstory findings by Savannah Chastain. Michele LeBlanc

Through her research, Chastain has unearthed the stories of individuals like Aaron Mullen and Georgiana Riggs, shedding light on the lives of enslaved African Americans in our county.

Mullen, Riggs, and the founders of the Willow Hill School were just a few of the enslaved American African Americans living in Bulloch County at the time of emancipation in 1860. Around 38% of Bulloch County's total population of 5,668 were enslaved.

Chastain's exhibit is a history of space in Bulloch County from 1860 to 1915. Home churches, land, and cemeteries were all evidence of communities built by formerly enslaved people and their descendants. A large portion of freed people living in Statesboro moved outside the city limits.

According to Chastain, black families moved away from the city to preserve their communities. A number chose Briar Patch and old Township located in the southeast part of the county, while others built their community in Portal where Willow Hill School is located. Others moved to northwest Bulloch County, and 30 years later to Brooklet, in the southern part of the county.

Willow Hill School Marker-Research . Savannah Chastain

This shows the "pocket" communities and a sense, Chastain said, of "how African Americans were working to preserve their culture in the 20th century."

As of April 2024, the map includes 12 locations, including 14 cemeteries, that serve as poignant reminders of the past. Chastain's hope is that these sites will not only honor the memory of those who have passed but also serve as living testaments to the enduring spirit of the community.

In closing, Chastain shared, “I want people to know they are there and present. They showcase so much history of not just African Americans but of Bulloch County. They are bigger than just places to mourn or celebrate those that have come before us; they are also historical sites that hold a lot of memories.”

For those eager to learn more about this journey through history, feel free to contact Savannah Chastain at [email protected].

Keep Bulloch History Alive | Become a member of the Bulloch County Historical Society today!

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1. Download and Mail

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BCHS meetings are open to the public. They are held on the 4th Monday of the month, January through November. Please check our calendar for details.

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