This week I wish to honor Savannah educator Susie King Taylor. Born into slavery on the Isle of Wight in Liberty County in 1848 as Susan Baker, young Susie lived with her grandmother Dolly Reed and two siblings in Savannah from around 1855 until the beginning of the Civil War. During that time her grandmother ensured she received an education. She attended two secret schools led by free women of color—Mary Woodhouse and “Mary” (probably Mathilda) Beasley. She also received lessons from a playmate, Katie O’Connor, a student at St. Vincent’s, and high school student James Blouis, the son of her grandmother’s landlord. Teaching enslaved people was illegal—a punishable crime that would cost a person of color $100 and up to 32 lashes in a public square, and a white person $500. Officials usually ignored the secret schools, but the legal implications forced teachers and students to teach and learn surreptitiously. During the Civil War, Susie taught reading and writing to formerly enslaved men and their children, including soldiers in the 33rd U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment in which she was employed. After the war, she taught recently freed children and adults in Savannah and Liberty County. She wrote about her students’ eagerness to learn to read.
Susie’s conviction to learn and to teach inspires me. I am so grateful for my education—from Butler Elementary School to Beach High School to the University of Georgia.