Ralph Mark Gilbert, top center, stands at the pulpit of the First African Baptist Church, where he served as pastor from 1939 to 1956.

A Civil Rights Movement Pioneer

Museum Named for Dr. R. M. Gilbert

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Dr. Gilbert, who died in 1956, was the father of the present day civil rights movement in Savannah, ASALH president W.W. Law said. Honoring this great man is long overdue.

He came to Savannah in 1939 to pastor historic First African Baptist Church on Franklin Square. He reorganized the Savannah NAACP and served as president from 1942 to 1950, leading the fight to end the white only Democratic primary. His leadership among other things gave Savannah the first black policemen in the deep South. He organized here the largest NAACP youth council in the nation in 1942, also. He organized and was the first president (1942-1948) of the Georgia State Conference NAACP Branches.

Dr. Gilbert has been described as "a great gospel preacher, peerless orator, religious dramatist, and dauntless leader of all causes and forces which serve an aggrandized mankind."

Description

The excerpt on this page marks the decision by the Chatham County Commission to name this museum in honor of Dr. Ralph Mark Gilbert.

His life's work left a great impact on Savannah and the greater Civil Rights movement. He accomplished pioneering feats including pushing for the elimination of the white-only primary and for the hiring of some of the first Black police officers in the Deep South. His leadership helped to lay the foundation of the Savannah civil rights movement and is an inspiration to all.

Lifetime Achievements

A detail from the museum archives of a record of Ralph Mark Gilbert's achievements written by his son William H. Gilbert. The document is transcribed below.

Rev. Ralph Mark Gilbert, D.D., B.A., M.A
1899 - 1956


Brilliant black baptist minister, religious author, scholar, social and civil rights leader. Some of his many accomplishments were as follows:

Filed suit in court in 1932 and won suit against Colfax Theater in South Bend, Indiana so that blacks could sit anywhere they chose in theater. Marked first time such a case had been won by a black.

Pastor, First African Baptist Church, 23 Montgomery Street, Savannah, Georgia. Oldest black church in North America 1939-1956. He loved people, people loved him, loved his church.

President, Savannah, Georgia Branch, N.A.A.C.P.

President, Georgia State Conference, N.A.A.C.P.

Organized fifty branches N.A.A.C.P. in Georgia.

Organized largest N.A.A.C.P. Youth Council in the country.

Led fight to secure USO for black service men. Later YMCA. Both a first for Savannah, Ga.

A gifted and dynamic speaker. Much sought after for church revivals, commencement speeches and other affairs.

Formed Citizens Democratic Club to register black voters.

Helped form Greenbriar Children's Center.

Taught blacks to have self respect, pride, faith and courage, to stand up for their rights, get education.

Led fight to hire black police officers in Savannah, Ga, the first black police officers in the deep South.

Wrote, directed and produced nineteen religious plays. Some given at then Municipal Auditorium for capacity crowds.

Sued in court and won the right for blacks to vote in the Georgia Primaries, and have a choice in selecting candidates running for offices.

Fought for higher teacher's pay.

Brought national figures, ministers, college presidents, singers, authors, etc., such as Walter White, Lillian Smith to expose blacks to culture.

Led voter registration drives for blacks, taught blacks the value their vote, how to pick best candidate for office.

Won the respect of black and white people.

Plays written, directed and produced by Rev. R.M. Gilbert. Given in many cities in United States between 1933 and 1939:

PASSION AND TRIUMPH
THE GUIDING STAR
THE PEASANT OF GALILEE
THE BEAUTIFUL STAR
THE EASTER LILY
THE ASCENSION
WHICH MAN WAS RICH
THE PARDON
TIME'S EASTER
THE VISITANT
SIGN OF THE SAVIOR'S ADVENT
SACRAMENT
PONTIUS PILATE
JUDAS ISCARIOT
GETHSEMANE
THE LAST SUPPER
THE CRUCIFIXION
THE RESURRECTION
I'VE GOT RELIGION

Songs written by Rev. R.M. Gilbert:
THE LIVING SAVIOR

William H. Gilbert
Macon, Georgia

Description

This list of Ralph Mark Gilbert's life achievements was written by his son, William H. Gilbert.