“I am a son of Pin Point,” said Thomas, who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1991.
The justice was clearly comfortable inside the Sweetfield of Eden Baptist Church, where the day-long celebration began. Thomas laughed heartily as several of the other speakers talked about their youthful experiences together and referred to him by his Pin Point nickname, “Boy.”
But he was quite serious as he explained what Pin Point, which was settled in the 1890s by African-Americans from adjacent islands, has meant to him.
“I had always hoped that I’d bring honor to Pin Point,” said Thomas, whose wife, mother and sister sat in the tightly-packed audience, along with a large number of cousins.
The justice still felt the tug of his early experiences in Pin Point, which he said, sat “at the edge of the water, at the edge of society, and at the edge of Savannah.”
As he and other small children walked to catch the bus that would take them to Haven Home School, said Thomas, the older boys would shepherd them along the road and hold their hands.
Once he moved to Savannah in 1954 and began attending Florance Street School, Thomas said wistfully, he realized “there were no cousins there.”
Frequent, spontaneous calls of “amen” rang from the audience as Thomas and the other speakers – who included Pin Point Betterment Association President Hanif Haynes, Chatham County Commissioner Helen Stone and Georgia Historical Society President and CEO W. Todd Groce – delivered their remarks.
Combined community choirs performed at the event’s start and a benediction from the church’s minister, Bishop Thomas Sills, accompanied the unveiling of the monument.
Songs by the McIntosh County Shouters, a storied group of performers whose talents recall and commemorate the slavery experience, lent that same flavor to the second event of the day, the dedication of the Pin Point Heritage Museum.
Most of the people who attended the monument unveiling simply walked from the church to the museum, which is a state-of-the art restoration of the old A.S. Varn and Son seafood factory.
Built in 1929, the multi-building complex was once the biggest employer in Pin Point as it sent canned oysters and other seafood products to restaurants along the East Coast. But the factory closed in 1985, and the buildings eventually fell into disrepair.
By 2010, when the restoration began, the dock where oyster boats once unloaded was in danger of disappearing into the marsh, said Emily Owens of Dallas, who oversaw the project from start to finish.
“I’m thrilled” with the final product, said Owens, of Crow Holdings, a firm that directs the investments of the Trammell Crow family and its business partners.
Harlan Crow, the son of the late Trammell Crow, is “my good friend,” and undertook this project “against my advice,” Justice Thomas said.
The resultant transformation of the old factory dazzled those who attended the dedication.
The museum will provide a “lasting legacy” for the Pin Point community, said Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson.
Earl Haynes, one of the officers of the Pin Point Betterment Association, said what the museum shows, and how it explains Pin Point’s history, exceeded his “wildest dreams.”
One of the museum’s many stories
The Pin Point Heritage Museum has put the old factory back together and features videos, audios, and displays of seafood processing.
Its color palate features such Lowcountry standards as haint blue, and its posters use the fonts that once adorned products canned by the A.S. Varn & Son Oyster Seafood factory.
But what truly sets it apart is its moving portrayals of the people who once worked at the factory.
The story of John Henry Haynes, whose nickname was Bacon, is an example. Haynes had an “encyclopedic” knowledge of the Moon River, said the plaque. “Before he died,” further read the account, “he asked that his casket be placed on this dock for a short time before the burial service — a final chance to be near the water that was so important to him. After fulfilling this wish, the community and casket bearing his body continued on to the cemetery.”
Fittingly enough, the plaque now looks out on that dock.