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Reverend Ralph Mark Gilbert
1939-1956

One of the most aggressive ministers of the First African Baptist Church, was the Reverend Ralph Mark Gilbert.  Reverend Gilbert was a great gospel preacher, a peerless orator, a religious dramaturgist and fraternal man.  It was through Reverend Gilbert’s efforts, the Greenbriar Orphanage was established.  Mrs. Adline Graham, owner of the Graham Apartments, left as a part of her will, a certain amount of money for a Negro orphanage.  Reverend Gilbert called a meeting of Negro ministers for the purpose of organizing the orphanage.  Reverend Gilbert later felt that the organization of the orphanage would take more time than the ministers could give.  He called a delegation of three persons from neighboring churches along with members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, to organize the First orphanage for Negro children.  The first location was in Carver Village.  Today, the orphanage is known as the Greenbriar Children’s Center.

Reverend Gilbert organized the West Broad Street Y.M.C.A.  Reverend Gilbert called a meeting of twenty-four men, twelve Negroes and twelve Whites, for the purpose of purchasing the holdings of the U.S.O., because the Army was phasing out.  The men agreed to pay fifty dollars each to purchase the holdings.

The Savannah Branch of the NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was re-organized by Reverend Gilbert.  He served as President of the Savannah Branch from 1942-1950.  Reverend Gilbert was the organizer and first President of the Georgia State Conference of NAACP.

Reverend Gilbert was instrumental in re-enforcing a resolution, formerly, proposing that appointment of Negro policemen for Savannah be taken under advisement by City authorities.  The proposal first came in 1943, but it was later before Negroes were considered.  This re-enforcement of Reverend Gilbert soon led to the appointment of Negroes as policemen in Savannah.

The largest registration drive for Negro voter registration in Savannah was led by Reverend Gilbert.  The Voter Registration Committee meetings were held in the First African Baptist Church.  Reverend Gilbert, as Pastor of the church and President of the NAACP, was able to contact the right people in office, and Negroes were privileged to vote in the Primary Election

Reverend Gilbert was a leader of all time.  He was an “ornament to the religion of Jesus Christ.”  In 1954, Reverend Gilbert organized the First Credit Union in a church in Georgia.  Reverend Gilbert died in August 23, 1956.

 A civil rights museum was constructed in Savannah in 1996 to honor the legacy of Dr. Gilbert and the struggle of African Americans in the segregated South.

 

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