The 1st Savannah Black Heritage Festival (SBHF) was held August 20, 1988, and was originated under the guidance and leadership of the late Westley W. Law and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASAALH), with moral support and general funding from the City of Savannah. The first festival was held in the 500 Block of Huntington Street and on the grounds of the King-Tisdell Cottage Museum. Featured artists included Blues singer, Drink Small; craftsman/sculptor, Ulysses Davis; Poet, John Stiles; The Gospel Aires; Storyteller, Janie Hunter; Sam Gill and His Dixieland Band; and harmonica player, Brigham Brannan, to name a few.

Subsequently, the festival was held annually in various venues in the City, including the Savannah Civic Center, sometime between the months of August and October until 1999. In that year, then Mayor Floyd Adams and City Council approached the administration at Savannah State University (SSU), the local Historically Black University, requesting that they assume the role as producer of the SBHF for the City, serve as the authorized fiscal agent of record to oversee grant monies allocated by the City for festival operations, and establish February as the official month of celebration for the festival. This move was made in order to bring continuity in leadership to the event; to develop and present quality and relevant programs that advanced the African American culture; and to re-establish prominence to the festival so that the citizens of Savannah and its outlying areas, youth, and visitors could reap full benefits from the presentation.

Savannah State University (SSU) continues to sit at the helm of operations for the festival, primarily as the fiscal agent of record. However, the University also commits significant support through in-kind services such as administrative, legal and fiduciary services, dedicated office space with equipment, computer and phone/fax lines, meeting space and venue spaces for SBHF performances, presentations and exhibitions. Since 2000, the festival has matured into a stable, quantifiable, multi-disciplinary event that spans 2-3 weeks.