First African Baptist Church
First African Baptist Church has one of the most compelling stories to tell in all of Savannah. The church was formed by slaves in 1777; in 1855, slaves working on area plantations constructed the current building in their precious free time.
“People gave the money that they had saved to buy their freedom,” said Jonny McDonald, the church’s tour guide. “They built this church at nighttime after working for their slave owners all day. Some of them walked seven miles to come work here every night. They had to be back by sunrise or else they would be considered runaways.”
During a tour, groups hear about the church’s role in Savannah history — it was there that the Emancipation Proclamation was first read aloud in the city — and see its historic furnishings. The balcony has pews dating back to the 1870s, some of which are adorned with mystical inscriptions in foreign languages.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the church is the basement, where visitors can see evidence of Underground Railroad activity. Several sets of small holes in the basement floor served as ventilation for the runaway slaves that hid in the subbasement. Because the holes were drilled in sets that formed religious symbols, nobody suspected their real purpose.
“The most amazing thing is that nobody was every captured here,” McDonald said. “Nobody knew that there were runaway slaves in the basement.”
A small exhibit gallery in the basement displays artifacts from the church’s history.
Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum
In Pooler, a small town just outside of Savannah, travelers hear more stories of valor at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum. This division of the Army Air Force served heroically in England during World War II.
“The Eighth Air Force was established in downtown Savannah the month after Pearl Harbor and went on to become the largest armada in history,” said Henry Skipper, the museum’s president and CEO. “The purpose of the museum is to honor these men. It’s an amazing story, and we still have some World War II veterans giving tours here.”
The impressive exhibits at this museum give visitors a well-rounded understanding of the history of the Mighty Eighth and the young soldiers’ experiences abroad. In addition to artifact galleries, the museum features “The Mission Experience,” a series of immersive films that give visitors a glimpse at a day in the life of a bomber pilot and crew.
Many visitors will enjoy the aircraft on display in the museum, including the “Spirit of Savannah,” a B-17 Flying Fortress that museum volunteers are restoring.
“The B-17 is being restored to its full combat condition,” Skipper said. “When we finish, it will actually be able to fly if we want it to.”
In addition to regular tours, the museum offers behind-the-scenes programs that take groups into the archives to examine artifacts not on display. The museum also has a restaurant modeled after a traditional English pub and a gift shop.