Located in the Savannah Historic District, the Beach Institute was established in 1867 as the city’s first school built specifically for African-American students to assimilate into white society. Today, the Beach Institute is a museum and houses more than 230 woodcarvings by renowned folk artist Ulysses Davis.
The school was originally named for Alfred E. Beach, editor of Scientific American, who donated the funds to purchase the site. When it opened, Beach Institute was originally staffed by white female teachers from the north and had an initial enrollment of 600 students. By 1874, it underwent a change of hands to the Savannah Board of Education, and in 1875, it became a free public school for black children. Enrollment began declining as other area schools opened, forcing the Beach Institute to close its doors in 1919.
Today, the old building serves as an African-American Cultural Center and offers programs and exhibits that feature African-American influenced arts and crafts, like Davis’ noted woodcarvings. Davis was a Savannah barber with an incredible talent for carving wood. His works reflected his deep faith and have been recognized as important examples of African-American vernacular art.
The Beach Institute Museum is located at 502 E. Harris Street in Savannah. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 5pm.