The Beach Institute African-American Cultural Center in downtown Savannah is Savannah’s flagship museum for African-American art, history and culture.
Their exhibits and artistic and educational programs are part of an ongoing effort to collect, interpret, preserve and present African American history. But when their doors first opened in 1867, it was as the first school for African Americans built in Savannah after Emancipation.
In 1770 a state law passes that forbade teaching slaves. In 1865 the law ended. On December 21, 1864, General Sherman ended his March to the Sea with the capture of the port of Savannah. Sherman declared to Savannah that all slaves were to be freed. Then, he gave Savannah to Abraham Lincoln as a Christmas present.
In 1865, a meeting was held at the First African Baptist Church to discuss how the freed slaves were going to educate their community.
Leaders African American churches remained behind after the meeting to discuss the organization of schools. Together, they formed the Savannah Education Association (SEA). With funding from the community and assistance from Northern Education Aide Societies, the SEA provided free education for African-American students. This funding allowed for the building of the Beach Institute. The American Missionary Association the Freedmen’s Bureau helped in the construction.
The school was named in honor of inventor and editor of Scientific American, Alfred Ely Beach, who was a benefactor of the school. Now operated by the King-Tisdell College Foundation, the Beach Institute hosts award-winning exhibitions celebrating African-American art.
The Beach Institute is located at 502 E. Harris Street. For admission rates and hours, visit www.beachinstitute.org or call (912) 335-8868.