Home Lesson Plans Oral Histories Bibliographies Partners Contact Us
Partners IMLS Digital Library of Georgia Civil Rights Digital Library Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection The New Georgia Encyclopedia Unsung Foot Soldiers
Cities: Savannah

Merging Savannah's State Universities

In the 1970s, Savannah State University and Armstrong Atlantic State University were named in a federal lawsuit that the NAACP filed in eight southern states. In this suit, the NAACP claimed that Georgia was operating a dual system of racially segregated and unequal schools. Predominately black Savannah State and predominately white Armstrong offered similar degree programs to students in Savannah. Talks of merging both schools to comply with federal law raised tensions as general opinions on a proper course of action differed.

Allegations that Savannah State and Armstrong University were racially segregated caused a stir on both campuses, as well as in the city's general population. Orders to desegregate the universities led to talks of merging the two schools, an option opposed by many students and community members. Arguing that both welcomed people of all races, some students supported the option of keeping both of them open. Frank Scarlett, the presiding judge, heard arguments from community members opposed to desegregating the schools, which revealed their disdain for the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.

Founded in 1890, Savannah State is the oldest historically black public university in Georgia. Richard R. Wright, Sr. served as the first president of the school, then called the Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youth. It was first located in the Baxter Street School Building in Athens, before being permanently moved to Savannah on October 7, 1891. Cyrus Gilbert Wiley, the second president, served from 1921 until 1926 and made advancements by allowing the admission of women to the university. During the tenure of Benjamin F. Hubert the college became a full-time, degree-granting institution and a member of The University System of Georgia. In 1950 the school changed its name from Georgia State Industrial College to Savannah State College.

Savannah Mayor Thomas Gamble established Armstrong Atlantic, a junior college, in May 1935. Negotiations began in 1957 to acquire state funding for Armstrong, and by 1959, it had also joined the University System of Georgia. The campus was moved in 1965 to allow for more modern facilities.

When plans to desegregate the schools began, the state of Georgia submitted four versions of their “Plan for the Further Desegregation of the University System of Georgia.” Although the possibility of a merger remained high, the two schools did not join. The adopted plan called for Armstrong to award all teacher education degrees and Savannah State to award all business degrees. Only students and faculty enrolled in these programs moved to the respective colleges.

The decision not to merge the two schools has brought about some talk and tension in the Savannah community. The biggest problem that Savannah community members are facing is that they are paying taxes to fund two major universities in a city with a medium sized population. Also, there has been talk for years about reinstating education and business programs back into both schools. However, this has not happened so far.

Suggested Resources (click here)

Printable Version (click here)

Discussion Questions

1. Read the story Nazis Protest Busing in the Freedom on Film Savannah pages. In what ways did the busing issue reflect the racial tensions of the city? How smoothly did the integration process go at the elementary and middle-school levels in Savannah?   

2. Are there any other cities in Georgia that had to go through the same type of integration? If so, which cities and which schools? Why was Savannah different from these?

3. Besides merging the schools and swapping the business and teacher education programs, what other solutions might have been proposed? What benefits and/or drawbacks could have resulted from these solutions? What benefits and/or drawbacks resulted from the actual solution? 

4. In this video clip, many people express the conviction that the system should not be altered. What reasons could have influenced their lack of support for changing the school system? What problems did the dual system pose for the government? What arguments against segregation did supporters of integration make? 

Take it to the Streets!

Within the United States, many colleges and universities have traditionally catered to one particular gender or race, such as historically black colleges or universities or predominately white institutions; women's or men's colleges; or military colleges. A woman who attends a women's college, for example, will graduate with a different perspective than a woman who attended a co-ed institution. Select two people in your community who attended colleges with one or both of these specifications. Make a list of questions which you will use to interview them. How did their experiences differ based on the make-up of their college or university? What other factors may have influenced their experiences?


Writers: Michael Kobleur and Kathleen O’Riordan in Professor Barbara McCaskill's ENGL 2400 (Survey of Multicultural American Literature), Spring 2007.                                                                                           

Editors and Researchers: Christina L. Davis, Mary Boyce Hicks, and Professor Barbara McCaskill

Web Designer: William Weems

Freedom on Film is not responsible for the content of external web sites.

Civil Rights Digital Library Initiative Digital Library of Georgia Site Map
The University of Georgia King Info Kennedy Info March Info Student Info