5 Notable women of the past and present (special series part 5): Savannah’s Dr. Abigail Jordan

Dr. Abigail Jordan, founder of the African-American Monument Association and
of the Consortium of Doctors. (photograph circa 1995, from collection of author.)

On July 27, 2002, journalists and everyday individuals from virtually every region of the United States and the global village made their way to Savannah , Georgia, where they joined local inhabitants to witness the dedication ceremony for the African-American Monument on River Street. The event represented the culmination of a decade-long battle waged by Dr. Abigail Jordan to make certain that in a city renowned for its historic parks and monuments, at least one would stand in recognition of the contributions of African Americans to city.

Since that day, Jordan has become one of Savannah’s most celebrated figures. Just before the monument’s dedication, she had been named “Woman of the Year” by the Beaufort Gullah Festival in Beaufort, South Carolina. November 12, 2005, the African American Business Magazine presented her with the Fannie Lou Hamer Award and named her one of 100 Black Women of Influence. On April 15, 2009, she was selected as one of the “Community Stars” chosen by the Savannah Technical College Foundation’s Community Council. Moreover, many national and international magazines and newspapers have featured profiles of Jordan.

In her citation tribute to Jordan for the Community Stars event, cultural arts advocate Shonah P. Jefferson noted:

“Dr. Jordan has touched and changed the lives of many, be it through her work as a professor at Savannah State or through the Consortium of Doctors, LTD. This remarkable woman has truly made a difference.”

The Monument and the Bridge

Resting atop a four-foot marble base, the richly dark bronze African-American Monument for which Jordan is celebrated stands approximately twelve feet tall, east of the glittering beams of the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge. Its juxtaposition to the bridge is an interesting one because four-time Governor Eugene Talmadge was an avowed white supremacist who likely would have campaigned vigorously against the monument.

Equally interesting is the fact that Abigail Hester Williams Jordan was born in an area that served as a political stronghold for Talmadge––Wilcox County, in what once was known as Middle Georgia. At the time of her birth during the Harlem Renaissance , Talmadge was already building the political and racial momentum that would win him election as the area’s agricultural commissioner the next year and set the stage for one of the most powerful political careers in the state of Georgia’s history.

Unlike Talmadge, Jordan was not born into the material comforts enjoyed by the elite of the time, and the title of her as yet unpublished fictionalized biography, Memoirs of A Slave’s Granddaughter, reflect that fact. She nevertheless did benefit from the labors of her self-employed father, Sam Williams, who used to make the wooden ties upon which railroad tracks were laid. She also received from her mother, Leah Williams, who worked at home to raise her six offspring, a great deal by way of self-determination and a lack of patience with racism.

The same kind of disregard for the rights and lives of African Americans that Talmadge excused as “regrettable” eventually led to most of Jordan’s family relocating to Savannah while a few remained and worked with her father.

Savannah’s famous African-American Monument on the cover of
A Celebration of the Civil Rights Struggle.

Her memories are clear enough of going with her mother to the Wilcox County Courthouse and watching her attempt to vote. Leah Williams was not surprised when she didn’t get to vote but mother and daughter were both traumatized when a white man tripped her on the courthouse steps and caused her to fall, suffering an injury from which she never fully recovered. A visit from the Ku Klux Klan, which left its then trademark calling card in the form of a cross burning in their yard, forced Sam and Leah Williams to do what so many black families have done since the days of slavery: divide in order to survive.

Jordan, however, did much more than just survive. She thrived by gaining entry into a private school in Albany and washed dishes to help pay for her education there. She later received an undergraduate degree in 1949 at Albany State College (now University) and a Master of Arts degree from Atlanta University. She drove back and forth between Athens and Savannah to study for her Doctorate of Education, which she received from the University of Georgia in 1980. In the course of obtaining her education, she married John Wesley Jordan and had one son.

NEXT: Abigail Jordan’s Historic Revelation

by Aberjhani
The National African-American Art Examiner and author/co-author of eight books, including ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love and The River of Winged Dreams.