“Our History Elevates Everyone”: Tybee MLK to Host Lazaretto Day Commemoration

A person stands next to a historical marker sign titled "lazaretto" in an open field.

“Our History Elevates Everyone”: Tybee MLK to Host Lazaretto Day Commemoration

Tybee MLK, a local human rights organization committed to social justice causes, has made uncovering untold truths an integral part of its mission. Per the organization’s website, “Tybee MLK strives in putting events together, sharing the history of Tybee Island by giving honor to the stories of our ancestors that came before us.” One such event is Lazaretto Day, which is a special observance to remember and raise awareness about Tybee’s lazaretto, a quarantine through which countless enslaved persons came into the region to be sold in the slave trade. Tybee MLK organizers have worked tirelessly to bring about a formal recognition of the lazaretto, and this year marks the third anniversary of Tybee’s Lazaretto Day observance. 

A person stands next to a historical marker sign titled "lazaretto" in an open field.

“Lazaretto Day came to be back in 2020 when the city signed a race equity resolution asking that the historical significance of African American culture be made prominent here on the island. . . They agreed to several things, and one of the things they agreed to is having a historical, comprehensive display of the lazaretto here on Tybee Island. And so we’re trying to raise awareness, money, and understanding about what the lazaretto is,” said Julia Pearce, Tybee MLK co-founder.

The lazaretto was a quarantine encampment that housed kidnapped Africans who were brought to the American south to be sold into slavery. It was a place where enslaved people who were afflicted by disease could be quarantined to prevent disease from spreading among the local inhabitants. Those who recovered journeyed to Savannah to be sold at City Market, and the bodies of those who died were callously discarded in unmarked graves. Tybee’s Lazaretto Day is an opportunity to learn about and reflect on this difficult and important history. It is observed on March 25, which is the United Nations’ International Day of Remembrance of Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. 

This year’s event will feature a lecture series given by Dr. Kara Sweeney, anthropologist and director of Digging Savannah at Georgia Southern University Armstrong Campus. Sweeney is a founding member of the Lazaretto Coalition, which was formed as an offshoot of Tybee MLK in 2020 to unearth the little-known history of Tybee’s lazaretto. Her lecture will discuss the important ways in which the lazaretto shaped coastal Georgia’s history.

Pearce believes that spreading awareness and educating the local populace about the lazaretto and its lasting impact on our coastal communities is vitally important.

“It’s history that you don’t learn in school. . . All we’re asking for is recognition for our ancestors of what actually happened, the true history. It’s an American tale of survival, of perseverance, and of glory,” she said. 

She encourages the public to come out and attend Lazaretto Day to learn about this local history that has lasting implications for the community today.

“People should attend Lazaretto Day because they love Tybee. And if you love Tybee, then love all the history of Tybee. All history is important. Our history does not diminish anyone. Our history elevates everyone,” said Pearce. “It shows the perseverance of mankind. It shows how people can come together to create something out of nothing. It shows who we are in humanity.”

Lazaretto Day will take place Monday, March 25 from 6–7:30 p.m. at the Tybee Guardhouse located at 31 Van Horne Ave. This event is free and open to the public. To learn more about Tybee MLK and how to get involved, visit tybeemlk.com

A poster for the tybee milk lazaretto day.

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