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If You’re Ever in Savannah…

James Lee Frazier, Jr. in Johnson Square, Savannah, GA.
Rita Thames

Most days, James Lee Frazier, Jr. can be found sitting on a bench in Johnson Square, Savannah, Georgia. Mr. Frazier has appointed himself a one-man welcoming committee for his beloved city, and can be heard pleasantly saying, “Welcome to Savannah!” to passersby, or singing songs about the city he loves in a rich baritone. Frazier has seen many changes in his city and eloquently speaks of them.

The history of Savannah is one that is common to the south. Frazier, born in 1945, makes history come alive just with the telling of it, for his account is through personal experience. It would seem we can all learn from listening to the elders in our communities.

As his story begins, he states, “I am a 72-year-old black man and have seen a lot. I was born and raised here in Savannah, sitting in the back of the bus and drinking from a colored water fountain.” He was an entrepreneur, making money on Hilton Head by picking tomatoes. There was only one hotel there at the time. Frazier said that instead of today’s golf course, there was a field of tomatoes. Although Frazier had nothing to do with civil rights he speaks of his cousin who, unlike him, was always curious about it. He remembers walking past a white school every day, never giving a second thought as to what the students were doing inside, but his cousin, Shirley, was always curious to know. He recalls one instance when she decided to taste the water from the white fountain to see if it tasted the same as the water from the colored fountain. Frazier said, “Her mother slapped her. Wham!” He also stated, “Our parents had a lot of fear and I must admit I had a lot of fear, too.” Frazier shares a story he remembers from his youth, the horrifying story of a young man, Emmitt Till, who was beaten and killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. That act of barbarism put fear in Frazier. If he found himself whistling in public he would immediately put his hand over his mouth and look around to make sure he wasn’t overheard. When asked if those incidents made him feel bitter about the past his answer was, “No, the only thing you really have is now. I’m an optimist and I think of all the marvelous experiences I’ve had in my life. If we live in bitterness, we will never see positive change.” Frazier says, “It’s been a challenge for us, as a race, to embrace ourselves, to love ourselves. Nobody can do that for us, but if a person experiences unconditional love from someone, then they know how to give unconditional love to others.” He states that God gives us all unconditional love. As to race relations in America, Frazier says, “Hard work and time are required to begin the healing process.” He quotes, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God. -Matthew 5:9, KJV”


Frazier believes we should all be better servants to one another and better citizens in our communities. He quotes Ronald Reagan, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” Frazier also says that “families need to take back their families.” He believes in individualized responsibility. He believes that, though we need one another, the bottom line is that we each need to be the leader of our own actions first. Frazier recalls some teachers that, as leaders, had a positive influence in his life and contributed to his feelings of self-worth. “It’s about loving children and teaching them to respect others through teaching about the love of the Father.”

Frazier is well-read and uses quotes to help define his ideas, quoting not only Ronald Reagan and William Shakespeare, but also Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Billy Graham, Dale Carnegie, and The Bible. He has been featured in Southern Living magazine and his picture has been published in The New York Times. If you’re ever in Savannah and find yourself in Johnson Square, stop by for a chat with Mr. Frazier.

To hear Frazier’s song about Savannah, visit: http://www.southernliving.com/travel/georgia/james-frazier-love-song-savannah-video

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