On March 11, 1913, Malcolm Bell, Jr., the second child of Malcolm and Laura Palmer Bell was born in Savannah.
Malcolm was educated in Savannah and graduated from Savannah High School. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where in addition to academics he excelled in athletics and most notably in 1934 when he lettered as a senior fullback under Coach Carl “The Grey Fox” Snavely. After graduation Malcolm put the gridiron behind him to attend Rutgers University to study banking.
On July 23, 1936, Malcolm married Muriel Barrow, born on December 23, 1913, the daughter of Dr. Craig Barrow. It was the blending of two of Savannah’s most prominent families. They would have two sons, Malcolm Bell, III and Craig Barrow Bell.
In 1939, Malcolm and Muriel became involved with The Federal Writers’ Project, part of the Work Progress Administration designed to provide jobs for historians, teachers, writers, and librarians. Malcolm and Muriel, both photographers, were invited by Mary Granger, the District Supervisor, to take part in a project documenting the oral histories of elderly African Americans in coastal Georgia, many themselves former slaves. The result was Drums and Shadows, published in 1940.
When the United States entered World War II, so did Malcolm Bell, Jr. as a member of the United States Coast Guard. By 1944 Bell was Captain of a Coast Guard Freighter ferrying much needed supplies to troops in the Pacific.
Eventually Malcolm would return home to Muriel and to a career in banking as President, and later chairman, of the Savannah Bank and Trust, but the two would pursue their love of history as ardently as any career. Passionate about Georgia history in particular, Malcolm would eventually serve as President of the Georgia Historical Society, where he wrote extensively, contributing numerous articles to the Georgia Historical Quarterly. Malcolm also wrote several books including Savannah Ahoy (1959) and Major Butler’s Legacy: Five Generations of a Slaveholding Family (1987).
In 1982 Malcolm received the Freedom Fund Award from the NAACP. He received the Governor’s Award in the Humanities in 1991, and the GHS John Macpherson Berrien Award for lifetime achievement in 2000. In 1992, GHS established the Malcolm Bell, Jr. and Muriel Barrow Bell Award. Given annually, it is the highest publication award given by the Society in recognition of the best book on Georgia history published the previous year.
Malcolm Bell, Jr. died October 22, 2001, age 88, in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Muriel Barrow Bell died December 3, 2011, age 97.
The Malcolm Bell, Jr. Fund was established in 2002 in memory of Mr. Bell via a bequest from his estate and a transfer from the General Endowment Fund to ensure that his love of Georgia history will continue in perpetuity.