Georgia Historical Society Dedicates New Historical Marker Recognizing the Complex Story of American Slavery and Freedom

Reverend Thurmond Neill Tillman, Lillian Grant-Baptiste, Joseph A. Melder, Honorable Van R. Johnson II, Alderman Detric Leggett, Dr. W. Todd Groce, and Reverend Christopher J. Pittman (l-r).

Savannah, GA, April 10, 2024 – On Wednesday, April 10, 2024, the Georgia Historical Society (GHS) unveiled a new historical marker, “The Montmollin Building and Bryan School,” that recognizes an important site in the history of enslavement, emancipation, and African-American education. The Montmollin Building is an antebellum commercial structure in Savannah used as a slave brokerage and later as the Bryan School, one of Georgia’s first legal Black schools. GHS dedicated the new marker in partnership with the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Savannah.

“The story of the Montmollin Building and its many uses reflects the larger history of the American South in all its complexity,” said Dr. W. Todd Groce, Georgia Historical Society President and CEO. “Telling that story in a full and honest way gives us a better understanding of who we are as a nation, which in turn helps us to build a better future.” 

Savannah was Georgia’s largest slave trading center and a hub for the regional domestic slave trade by the 1850s. Built around 1856, the Montmollin Building served as an office for John S. Montmollin and Alexander Bryan, who held and sold enslaved Black people there for almost a decade. When the U.S. government confiscated the Montmollin Building during the Civil War, it provided the building to Savannah’s African-American community, which organized the Savannah Educational Association (SEA) to fund and establish schools. Opening in January 1865, Bryan School operated in the Montmollin Building and was one of SEA’s first schools.

“The transition of the Montmollin Building’s use from slave mart to free school in 1865 captures a pivotal moment in history as newly freed African Americans worked to secure their rights and freedoms by forging a path forward through education,” said Luciana Spracher, City of Savannah Municipal Archives Director. “The installation of a historical marker sharing the history of the building and the Bryan School is long overdue, and we look forward to utilizing the marker to share this important story with all our residents and visitors.” 

The marker dedication took place in Savannah’s City Market, near the Montmollin Building, at 23 Barnard Street. Speakers included Ken Slats, Office of Communications, City of Savannah; Reverend Thurmond Neill Tillman, First African Baptist Church; Lillian Grant-Baptiste; Alderman Detric Leggett, District 2, City of Savannah; Honorable Van R. Johnson, II, Mayor, City of Savannah; Joseph A. Melder, City Manager, City of Savannah; Dr. W. Todd Groce, President and CEO, Georgia Historical Society; Reverend Christopher J. Pittman, First Bryan Baptist Church; and Luciana Spracher, Municipal Archives Director, City of Savannah.

The marker text reads:

The Montmollin Building and Bryan School

Banker and slave trader John S. Montmollin commissioned this building (c.1856) for his business. After Montmollin’s death, Alexander Bryan continued using the building to hold and sell enslaved people. When US General William T. Sherman captured Savannah in December 1864, the US government, implementing emancipation, confiscated the building and provided it to Savannah’s African-American community, which formed the Savannah Educational Association (SEA) to fund and establish schools. This building became the site of Bryan School. On January 10, 1865, at the school’s opening, hundreds of Black children marched here from First African Baptist Church. SEA schoolchildren publicly showcased their knowledge of grammar, history, geography, arithmetic, and other subjects in July 1865. The American Missionary Association, a northern benevolence organization, absorbed SEA and founded the Beach Institute in 1867, consolidating several schools, including Bryan School.

Erected by the Georgia Historical Society and the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Savannah

For more information about The Montmollin Building and Bryan School historical marker dedication or the Georgia Historical Society marker program, please contact Keith Strigaro, Director of Communications, at 912.651.2125, ext. 153, or by email at


The Georgia Historical Marker Program is an important part of the Georgia Historical Society’s (GHS) statewide educational mission. Through a public-private partnership with the State of Georgia, GHS is responsible for erecting new historical markers and maintaining more than 2,000 markers installed by the State prior to the program’s privatization in 1998. Online mapping tools allow users to explore themed marker trails and design custom driving routes. Visit for more ways to use Georgia’s historical markers and experience history where it happened.

Georgia Historical Society (GHS) is the premier independent statewide institution responsible for collecting, examining, and teaching Georgia history. GHS houses the oldest and most distinguished collection of materials related exclusively to Georgia history in the nation.
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