Jane Fishman is a contributing lifestyle columnist for the Savannah Morning News.
Julia Pearce’s grin is slow and sly. She remembers the old days on Tybee Island when people saw her, a black woman, and her husband Mallory, a white man, walk into a room before anyone knew the couple were together. They would whisper, she said. Tybee was a different place in the late 90s. The two didn’t care. Mallory taught her to laugh. It saves you from the gossip, he said.
Julia is an activist, a spark plug, a doer. It brings people together, without resentment, without antagonism. She is one of the few blacks living on Tybee, but she managed to create and inspire a group – Tybee MLK Human Rights – that is “probably 95% white.”
Mallory is an artist, a Renaissance man, a nature lover. The couple, married for 26 years, live in a concrete block house that Mallory’s parents built in 1955, at the time one of the few houses on the island. Only poor people lived on the beach, said Julia, black or white. Mallory’s father, a California chemist, came to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The couple met at a bar in the old DeSoto Beach Hotel on Tybee. The bar was Mallory’s meeting place. Julia, a Spellman College graduate and an intensive care nurse, came to Atlanta in 1997 on the run from a failed marriage. She had stayed at the hotel trying to figure out what to do next. She had two young daughters.
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connected: A look back at Orange Crush on Tybee Island
Connected: Annual Juneteenth Wade-In
Photo gallery: Juneteenth Wade-In on Tybee Island
When she applied for a position at Memorial Medical Center and someone asked where she would like to live, Julia was at a loss. She didn’t know. The woman directed them towards the Safe Shelter, a residence for women in need. From there she found shelter at Shelter Plus Care in Savannah on West Burroughs Street. “You saved me,” she said. “It’s a great organization.”
Mallory, who was then teaching art history at Armstrong State College (now part of Georgia Southern University), continued to visit him. He took the time to get to know her. About a year after their relationship began, he said to her, “We have two problems. First, I’m older. Then there is the other problem. I am white, you are black “
Julia disagreed. “I said it doesn’t matter. We both liked to dance and we both liked history. “
“Isn’t she great?” Said Mallory.
Today Mallory is 86, Julia 60.
Julia got a job as a psyche nurse in the old Tidelands. The couple moved to Tybee with Juliet’s daughters, who were 2 and 10 years old. They were married at All Saints Episcopal Church, “where Walter Parker, the mayor, said this was the most integrated event he had ever attended,” said Julia.
“We had a good life together,” she said. “He’s not trying to make me who I am not. He doesn’t shape me. “
Julia, who was born in Pittsburgh, is one of seven women in her family – including her two daughters – who are named “Julia”. A note she keeps in her Bible lists her starting with “Julia Mary Good, 1861, born into slavery”. The others contain descriptions like “Reconstruction, Great Migration, Business / LPN, RN, Harvard”. The newest Julia was born in 2016.
When Mallory ran for Tybee City Council, where he served for 10 years, Julia realized that she could give him her opinion, but not publicly. She didn’t want to embarrass him, she said, “although he is much more radical than me.” But as soon as he stepped off the council, it went public.
“I found my voice,” she said, and founded the Tybee MLK Human Rights Organization to lead marches and inspire events like next June 19th, which commemorates the end of slavery.
“There’s so much about black people on the island that people don’t know about it, starting with the ‘wade-ins’ on the once segregated beaches,” she said. This was a series of peaceful protests spearheaded by the late WW Act, a Savannah civil rights activist.
In honor of the activists, Tybee put a historical marker in front of the Tybee Lighthouse.
Photo archive: Savannah’s WW Law
Ben Goggins: Uncovering the story of Lazaretto
Then there is another marker at Lazaretto Creek that shows thousands of enslaved people who have arrived on slave ships and have been quarantined, “often in very unfriendly ways.”
Both marks are the result of a bold and specific ordinance called “Racial Equality”. It was passed by Tybee City Council in 2020, a clear attempt at race reckoning.
“The black story on Tybee is one that has never been told,” said Julia. “But we are working on it.”
The other story Julia likes to bring up is Orange Crush, an annual and sometimes controversial gathering (up until this year) of African American college students on the beach.
“To be honest,” Julia began, “I made sure that my children were in the house. But it was the police presence that frightened me. Still, to pass a resolution against drinking in the open air on two weekends in April, as the Council did in 2016? This is Jim Crow. We looked at the data. Orange Crush had more cops than Pirate Fest, for example, so there were more arrests. You hear?”
Nevertheless, she takes the main street.
“We are on the side of justice, waiting for justice to manifest. Our people survived the Middle Passage and continued to stand. You rest, but you don’t stop. It is a journey that is well worth it. “
Contact Jane Fishman at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 912-484-3045. More columns by Jane Fishman can be found at SavannahNow.com/lifestyle/.
What: Annual calf-in
When: 9: 30-11: 30 a.m.
Where: North Beach, Tybee Island
What: African Art Exhibition “Things Left Behind”
When: Noon-6 p.m. 19.-20. June
Where: The Guard House, 13 Van Home Ave., Tybee Island
What: Juneteenth Art Festival
When: Noon-8 p.m. 19.-20. June
Where Tybee Pier & Pavilion
More info: TybeeMLK human rights organization on Facebook / TybeeMLK