Movement transfixed national attention on Georgia, and laid
the philosophical groundwork for the historic 1963
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Months before local NAACP leaders
Reverend Dr. King, the
Rev. Ralph Abernathy, and members of SNCC and the
SCLC to their quiet southwest Georgia city, blacks and whites
in Albany banded together to dismantle Jim
Crow and to press for immediate legal, educational, and political
reforms. The Movement was officially activated on November 17,
Inspired by the success of the Montgomery,
Alabama, bus boycott, those who joined the Albany Movement
determined to end discrimination in all segments of society: in
public transportation, schools, and hospitals; in restaurants
and other dining establishments; in the public libraries; in business
and government. High school students from the city’s segregated
schools, youth from the historically black Albany
State College, and poor people from town as well as farms
in surrounding counties, were the most visible participants. They
marched in picket lines, conducted sit-ins and
voter registrations, risked expulsion from school and job loss,
and endured beatings and starvation in jail.
The process of dismantling Jim Crow also took subtle forms. For
example, school teachers would slip students civil rights news from
the northern papers to read secretly at home. Maids would attempt
to win support from sympathetic white employers.
Perhaps the most striking and memorable aspect of the Albany Movement,
and a central catalyst for its longevity, was the religious commitment
so clearly at its core. The Albany activists fine-tuned a strategy
for confronting police that began with mass meetings at Mt. Zion
or Shiloh Baptist Churches. These meetings culminated in speeches
by men such as the Rev. Samuel B. Wells, Charles
M. Sherrod of SNCC,
William G. Anderson, and brothers Slater
King and Chevene
Bowers (C. B.) King, who was one of only three black lawyers
practicing in the entire state at the time.
Those participating in the meetings sang spirituals and hymns,
what they called "freedom
songs," to affirm their faith and shore up their courage.
The entire congregation would often stand and sing together while
a designated group of activists marched out, picket signs in hand,
down a few short blocks in the black community, nicknamed Harlem.
Their destinations were City Hall, the Greyhound station, and other
landmarks in the downtown business district.
To come together, sing, and pray at mass meetings was as important
a role as marching and going to jail. Those who did not hold leadership
positions in the Movement provided crucial support as foot soldiers
in these collective moments of inspiration, resolve, and faith. Local
youth who later became members of the Freedom
Singers—Rutha Harris, Bernice
Johnson Reagon, Cordell Reagon, and others—were
featured at these gatherings.
Like so much during the Civil Rights years, the Albany Movement
was not without controversy. Some wondered about the effectiveness
of Dr. King’s involvement. Frustrated by the slow pace of social
change, many young black people rejected nonviolence and hurled
rocks and bricks at police and national guardsmen. The Movement
also reveals the complexities of whites’ responses to Civil Rights. While
Mayor Asa Kelley and Police
Chief Laurie Pritchett adamantly
opposed integration, Pritchett cultivated a polite and composed
demeanor in front of the news cameras.
Much has changed in the city since the Albany Movement ended in
the spring of 1963 (blacks now occupy influential posts in government
and education). Yet, with white flight to the suburbs and to private
and religious academies, Albany’s
public school system is comprised of a majority of black students.
Barbara McCaskill, Dept. of English, The University
Editors and Researchers: Lauren Chambers,
Aggie Ebrahimi, Courtney Thomas, and Professor Barbara McCaskill
Web Site Designer: William Weems
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