Ralph Mark Gilbert was the pastor of the historic First African Baptist Church from 1939 to 1956. He was a visionary, seeking to improve the lives and opportunities of African Americans. Recognized for his pioneering spirit, he served as a catalyst for many great changes during that era. He developed the West Broad Street YMCA in the late 1940’s and reorganized the Savannah branch of the NAACP. Under his leadership, more than forty NAACP chapters were organized by 1950 in Georgia.
Among his other achievements, Gilbert challenged the Georgia all-white primary in Savannah by launching a citywide black voter registration drive, in which hundreds of blacks were registered.
This led to the election of a reform-minded white mayor and city council. And in 1947, Savannah became one of the first cities in the South to hire black policemen, along with several other black city employees. As you tour the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum, witness the struggles faced by Georgia’s oldest African American community. The three floors feature historic photographic and interactive exhibits, including an NAACP organizational exhibit and a fiber-optic map of eighty-seven significant civil rights sites and events. A bronze bust of Gilbert welcomes guests on the museum’s first floor, which also features a recreation of the Azalea Room of Levy’s Department Store, where blacks could buy clothing but could not eat in the restaurant.
Thousands of people of all races come each year to share a glimpse into the African American civil rights movement and its history.