On Friday, Paula Wallace, SCAD president and founder, along with alumni, honored five 2018 inductees to the Savannah Women of Vision.
The five honorees were Miriam Center, Edna Jackson, Mary Lane Morrison, Fredericka Washington and Sema Wilkes. Their large carved portraits, created by SCAD alumnus Michael Porten (M.F.A., painting, 2012; B.F.A., illustration, 2004), now join those of the ten women inducted two years ago on either side of the Arnold Hall Auditorium.
The tradition of the portraiture began when President Wallace noticed that the 1930s New Deal-era mural of Savannah titans that lined the stage was comprised entirely of men. She aspired to elevate and illuminate the other half of history: the female trailblazers who have shaped the city and the world through ingenuity, compassion, strength and courage.
Tiffani Taylor (M.A., art history, 2003; B.F.A., painting, 2002) began the ceremony by celebrating President Wallace’s work as an educator and an inspiration for women.
“She is a shining example of female empowerment who inspires me to embrace my own influence as a mentor to others,” Tayor said, before shifting her focus to the Women of Vision to be honored.
“From now on,” Taylor continued, “if young women wonder what to be, they can come here and meditate on the strength of these forebearers. No young woman should ever wonder what she’s capable of. These women tell us such.”
Miriam Center (1926-present)
Allison Hirsch (M.F.A., dramatic writing, 2014; B.F.A., dramatic writing, 2010) honored Miriam Center. Miriam’s storied life included work on the construction of the Savannah Civic Center, the establishment of the Daughters of Destiny, the authorship of “Scarlett O’Hara Can Go to Hell” and the creation of the musical “Johnny Mercer & Me.”
“Her humor is contagious,” Hirsch said, “her energy is infinite, her free spirit is a model for young people to explore their passion. And not just young people but all people for Miriam’s gumption and tenacity proves that we can achieve any dream at any stage of life. As colorful as Savannah itself…Miriam dazzles with her wealth of stories and secrets. Her life radiates a full spectrum of experience and to her we owe a brighter, more character driven community.”
Edna Jackson (1944-present)
Ebony Simpson (M.F.A., historic preservation, 2002) honored Edna Jackson, who joined Savannah’s NAACP Youth Council at the young age of nine. Later in her life, she served as a three-term alderman at large on the Savannah City Council, as a two-term mayor pro tem and finally as Savannah’s 65th mayor, the first African-American woman to do so.
“She knows how to bring people together and has just the right touch to affect change in people’s lives and in their professions,” Simpson said. “She has taught young women in this city that they too can rise and be the first to mark a major accomplishment…like her mentors before her, Edna shows all of us the way forward.”
Mary Lane Morrison (1907-1994)
Sehila Mota Casper (M.F.A., historic preservation, 2014) honored Mary Lane Morrison, who helped to establish a historical record of Savannah by studying and documenting the city’s buildings, parks, and squares and served on the Board of Curators of the Georgia Historical Society.
“In scholarship, photography and historic documentation, Mary Lane Morrison’s curiosity and foresight benefits us all for generations to come,” Casper said. “Today, we reveal a lasting tribute to a woman who rendered a loving history of Savannah.”
Fredericka Washington (1903-1994)
A’ndrea Wilson (M.F.A., dramatic writing, 2017) honored Fredericka Washington. “Fredi” was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame for her role in the 1934 film “Imitation of Life” and for a film career dedicated to expanding opportunities for black actors and actresses.
“If Rosa Parks is the grandmother of righteous defiance,” Wilson said, “Fredi Washington is the godmother of representation…she teaches us to fight to be seen, to accept no limitation on how life should be and to fearlessly embrace opportunity.”
Sema Wilkes (1907-2002)
Hannah Hayes (M.A. arts administration, 2013) honored Sema Wilkes, who transformed a boarding house in Savannah into Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room. The restaurant has become an iconic attraction to downtown Savannah, attracting notable figures and winning accolades such as the Al Burress Lifetime Achievement Award from the Georgia Tourism Council.
“So often we take for granted the power of a home cooked meal and fellowship,” Hayes said. “Sema belongs to the women who created and sustained Southern cuisine. She belongs to the women who have worked in a male-dominated industry and exceeded every expectation and she belongs to the Savannah Women of Vision who have endeavored to make this city thrive.”
The Savannah Women of Vision Legacy
Alice Andrews Jepson, inducted with the nine other 2016 Women of Vision honorees for her passion and commitment to arts and education, spoke of the continuing legacy of the Women of Vision, in particular, about a curriculum guide designed around them.
“Share this space with educators and students of all ages. Encourage them to learn what all of these women have to offer,” Jepson said. “This gallery is a resource for the community, and the university delights in sharing it with all of you, all of Savannah, and all of the world.”
Anyone may schedule a tour of the theater’s gallery by visiting the program’s site.
Candice Glover (B.F.A performing arts) and Sandie Lee (B.F.A., performing arts, 2015) ended the ceremony by performing “I’m Here” from the Tony Award-winning musical, “The Color Purple.”
“It’s an ode to strength in sisterhood,” said Lee, “and we proudly dedicate this performance to the Savannah Women of Vision.”