Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I Got The Call From W.W. Law

There are times in our lives when we have a brush with greatness, but most of the time we are just not aware. We encounter this excellence from time to time, but remain oblivious. These individuals (some of them may be you) may not get national or international recognition, but they are “great” in the eyesight of those who are aware of their contributions. For me, it was 1992 and my sophomore year as a student at Savannah State College. My English professor decided to take our class on a field trip to Savannah’s historic Beach Institute. Beach Institute began as a school for African American students before integration. It now functions as a museum and archive of African American history. It is also connected with The King-Tisdell Cottage Foundation of Savannah.

The professor told us that we were going to see and meet a very important Savannah native. He was also a graduate of Georgia State College (Now Savannah State University). Who was this man? Well, he was born Westley Wallace Law on January 1, 1923, but he was known around Savannah as W.W. Law. This is a person? When I first heard his name he sounded more like an organization or law office. Our instructor told us how he was a retired postal worker and former president of the NAACP (1950-1976) in Savannah. In fact, W.W. Law once led an 18 month boycott in 1960 of downtown merchants which forced Savannah’s leadership to listen and compromise on the civil rights issues of the day. He was a living, historical icon. I learned back then that he had dedicated the rest of his life to the preservation and dissemination of African and African American history. He took particular pride in the rich history and culture of his hometown, Savannah (The Low Country).

We arrived at Beach Institute and were immediately seated in a room where W.W. Law was already waiting. My first impression of him when I saw him was that of a grandfather -- a village elder. He was brown in complexion and he had a smooth, brown bald head (that bald head would be a part of my look in another 5 years). He was comfortably fitted in khaki pants and a flannel shirt with suspenders. He sat in his chair quietly and watched us as we quietly walked in. We had a small class of around 15 students and he looked at each of us carefully. As we were sitting and getting situated, Mr. Law blurted out, “young man, where are you from?” He addressed a tall, slender, dark brown young man who was also a student in the course. “I’m from South Carolina, Mr. Law,” he said with a polite look of bewilderment. Mr. Law continued, “Judging from your features and overall statue your ancestors were likely from Senegal.” The young man was speechless as he nervously smiled. W.W. Law glanced around the room and told others where their ancestors were likely from.
Most of the students there were from Georgia and South Carolina. Many of them displayed features that most likely resembled their ancestors a great deal. Mr. Law mentioned different countries in West Africa as he looked upon each of our faces.
Mr. Law went on to tell us about Savannah’s African American past and how we should arm ourselves with knowledge of the Diaspora. He urged us to visit our local libraries and to read all that we could about who we are as a people. In the end, I was impressed and inspired by is acumen and fervor for African culture and history. It awakened in me an insatiable thirst to find out more about our black history here in America. In 2007, I still have that thirst for information and history thanks to W.W. Law. I graduated college in June of 1994 with a degree in English Literature and Language. On July 28, 2002, W.W. Law died quietly in his home in Savannah just months after I had received my MAT in English. He was 79 years old. In July of 2002, I had completed a year of teaching rambunctious 9th and 10th graders. I was 35 years old and my head was smooth, brown and bald like W.W. Law. Still is!

Click post title to find out more about Mr. Law
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