Mar. 11, 1913 Savannah Chatham County Georgia, USA
Oct. 22, 2001 Hendersonville Henderson County North Carolina, USA
Malcolm Bell, Jr., 88, retired banker, civil rights advocate, civic leader, and historian, died October 22, 2001 at Elizabeth House in Hendersonville, N.C.
A native of Savannah, Mr. Bell was the son of Malcolm Bell and Laura Palmer Bell.
He attended the University of North Carolina, where he was inspired by the progressive ideas of President Frank Porter Graham. At Chapel Hill he was a star halfback on Frank Snavely's football teams of the 1930s. He later attended the Graduate School of Banking at Rutgers University, writing a thesis on philanthropy. Bell was a lieutenant in the Coast Guard during World War II, serving as captain of the supply ship FS 169, which participated in the battle of Leyte Gulf and saw action in the Philippines.
Bell's professional career was in banking. He served as vice president and trust officer of the Liberty National Bank, before moving to the Savannah Bank and Trust Co. as president in 1964. In Savannah he was a member of the Chatham County Board of Education and the Park and Tree Commission. He also served as president of the Savannah Chamber of Commerce and as chairman of the Savannah Port Authority. He was president of the Georgia Historical Society, which he also served for many years as a curator. In Savannah Mr Bell was Senior Warden of Christ Church and a member of the Union Society.
In 1978 Mr Bell was awarded the Oglethorpe Medal by the Savannah Chamber of Commerce. In 1982 he received the Freedom Fund Award from the NAACP, for his work with a citizens committee promoting racial harmony and justice. He received the Georgia Governor's Award in the Humanities in 1991, and in April, 2000, he was given the John Macpherson Berrien Award by the Georgia Historical Society, in recognition of lifetime achievement in the field of Georgia history.
After his retirement as chairman of the Savannah Bank and Trust Co., Mr Bell spent several years conducting research in the U.S. and abroad that led to the publication in 1987 of Major Butler's Legacy, Five Generations of a Slaveholding Family (University of Georgia Press). This study of the family of Pierce Butler of South Carolina remains in print. The Atlanta Journal and Constitution said that the author "unflaggingly entertains and continuously instructs." Earlier books are Savannah (1977) and Savannah. Ahoy! (Pigeonhole Press, 1959), an account of the voyage of the S.S. Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic. He was also author of articles and reviews appearing in the Georgia Historical Quarterly and the Georgia Review.
Mr Bell and his wife Muriel Barrow Bell were photographers, whose illustrations for the WPA-sponsored book Drums and Shadows (University of Georgia Press 1940) are considered classic records of African-American culture along the Georgia coast from Savannah to St. Mary's. These pictures have been frequently exhibited, most recently at Emory University in 1996.
Mr Bell is survived by his wife of sixty-five years, of Henderson Co., NC,; two sisters, Katharine Bell Ellis and Laura Bell Barrow, both of Savannah; a brother, Col. Frank Bell, USAF (ret.) of Hampton, Virginia; two sons, Malcolm Bell, III, of Charlottesville, Virginia, and Craig Barrow Bell, of Salem, Massachusetts; a daughter-in-law, Ruth Marshall Bell, of Charlottesville; two grandchildren, Raphael Austin Bell and Margaret Cornelia Bell; and a number of nieces and nephews. Like his father, Mr Bell was a dedicated gardener, whose flowers gave pleasure to friends and neighbors, as did his color photographs of the beauty of his surroundings.