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Growing up in Savannah in the Turbulent 1960s

SNC member Dr. Linda V. Brown tells her personal story

By Nan Taylor, SNC Historian

Dr. Linda Brown was born in the Georgia Infirmary Hospital on Abercorn Street in 1950. This hospital was established in 1832 and was one of the first hospitals in the nation that provided healthcare to African Americans. She was the third child in a family of five children, who grew up on the west side of Savannah. Her great, great grandfather, Andrew Thedford, was born into slavery in Alabama in 1833. He was bi-racial and named after his master-father William Thedford. The family lived in rural Greene County, Alabama until Linda’s mother, Lula Bell, and her new husband Lloyd, moved to Savannah in the early 1940s to seek a better life. Only eighteen years old, Lula was traumatized by the discrimination and violence she witnessed against African Americans in Alabama and had heard Savannah was a safer place.  

Linda’s family eventually settled two miles west of Savannah, near the Weeping Time historical site, during the time of the Jim Crow laws. Established in the 1870s, these local laws enforced a strict system of racial segregation, which did not allow blacks to share public facilities with whites. Eventually, African Americans pushed back against the system. Led by Ralph Mark Gilbert, the pastor of First African Baptist Church and president of the Savannah Branch of the NAACP, the activists organized voter registration drives among the black population, negotiated the hiring of African American police officers, and pushed for better infrastructure in the black neighborhoods.

By the early 1960s, the movement gained momentum when W. W. Law became the local NAACP president and Hosea Williams served as vice president and head of the NAACP’s local youth council. Protestors began a series of marches, pickets, and sit-ins against segregated facilities in Savannah. One of the most notorious sit-ins occurred at Levy Department Store in March 1960, where three protestors were arrested. In addition to these protests, local civil rights leaders organized the Chatham County Crusade for Voters to mobilize voter registration among the city’s black community.  

Because of the abhorrent experiences Linda’s mother had witnessed in Alabama, she encouraged her children to be obedient, respectful, and to never take part in the civil rights movement. Lula was a domestic worker and later trained to be an LPN, and consistently taught her five children the value of education.  Linda had two older brothers, and the one closest to her in age, Sage, was tasked with “watching after her,” and they became very close. When Sage was a young teenager, he got involved in the civil rights movement and joined the NAACP’s local youth council. Fearing for his (and their family’s) safety, their mother gave Sage an ultimatum that he either had to leave the civil rights movement or leave their house. At the age of 16 years old, Sage left home, moved in with friends, and participated in various protests, sit-ins, and marches, and helped with the Crusade for Voters. It was the summer of 1963. 

Linda, who was 13 at the time, was already helping her family financially by working odd jobs, and regularly traveled to downtown Savannah by bus. She was desperate to see Sage and while trying to find him, she got caught up in the protests as an innocent bystander. One time, while looking for Sage, she visited the Crusades for Voters on West Broad Street (now MLK Blvd.) and the police showed up and arrested everyone who was there. Linda and the other protestors were hauled into a police van and as they rode to the station, the demonstrators kicked the back door open and escaped. They all got away unharmed.

The second time Linda had a brush with the law was when she searched for Sage at a protest march near the courthouse. The police tried to break it up by spraying the demonstrators with water and tear gas, and intimidating them with snarling dogs on leashes. Linda recalls the burning sensation in her eyes from the gas and being knocked over by the powerful water hose blasts. This time she was arrested with the other protestors and ultimately was placed in juvenile detention. Later that day she was discharged, driven home, and snuck into the house with no one knowing what had happened – including her mother! 

Sage went to Groves High School in Garden City and was part of the first integrated graduating class of 1964, despite being beaten up every day at school. He joined ROTC, then the Army in 1966, where he served in Vietnam until 1973.  He attained the rank of captain, earned numerous medals including a Purple Heart, and received a bachelor’s degree. When he returned to Savannah, he continued his education and earned an MBA at the Joint Graduate Center of Savannah State and Armstrong Strate Colleges, and then a law degree from John Marshall Law School. He practiced law for many years in Savannah.  Sage continued to serve the community in many ways and played a vital leadership role in opening the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum in 1994.  

Linda graduated from Tompkins High School in 1968, joined the National Guard and then followed in her brother’s footsteps and joined the Army in 1973. She served for 27 years, ultimately attaining the final rank of Sergent First Class. The army paid for Linda’s extensive education in business administration, which includes a B.A. from Savannah State University, a MBA from Grantham University, and a doctorate degree from North Central University in Arizona. She is the owner of ALPHA Consulting and Mediation LLC. Linda made Atlanta her home in the 1970s, and after 45 years there, bought a home in Savannah in 2016. She now splits her time between the two cities. Linda was introduced to Savannah Newcomers Club by her friend and neighbor, Judy Case, and joined the club in 2017.

Linda’s mother, Lula, never knew anything about Linda’s arrest or her dangerous experiences with the civil rights protests. Although their roads were not easy, Linda and her brother Sage survived and thrived during the turbulent 1960s in Savannah. They were leaders and mentors in their careers, as well as in their communities.  Their younger siblings, Elizabeth, and Gary, benefited from their efforts and had successful careers of their own. Although their mother Lula died young, her children fulfilled her dream of attaining a good education, living a better life, and being an inspiration to all who knew them.

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