The Albany Civil Rights Institute honors the music and memories of a movement

Posted on 2/13/2015 by Rashelle

Categories: Family FriendlyHistoryTravel

An incredible museum space tells the story of Albany’s battle for social justice

ALBANY, GEORGIA – February, 2015 – Located on the Flint River in southwest Georgia, an ideal stopping point when en route to/from Savannah and Charleston or even Florida, Albany is a can’t miss stop for exploring America’s Black History. Beginning with the city’s historic antebellum Welcome Center, designed and built by former slave and noted engineer Horace King, roots of history run deep here. In ‘Selma,’ the new film about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s efforts to spread social change in the South, you may have caught references to the Albany Movement, an early attempt and a key step in the ultimate battle for civil liberties. Today, The Albany Civil Rights Institute commemorates the Albany Movement and the battle for social justice in small-town Georgia. TIP: Start with the film presentation at the Institute, a moving beginning to a visit here.


One of the cultural jewels of the South, Old Mount Zion Church was the 1961 location of Dr. King’s first appearance at an Albany mass meeting. The church filled to overflowing, requiring Dr. King to repeat his address across the street at Shiloh Baptist Church. Meanwhile, Old Mount Zion was filling up yet again causing Dr. King to speak for a third time. From there, he led a march to the Trailways Bus Station. Footsteps in the cement sidewalk now pave the way in remembrance of that historic occasion.


Old Mount Zion has since been transformed and supplemented with a museum space of over 12,000 square feet, telling the story of the civil rights movement in Albany and Southwest Georgia with interactive exhibits, a digital oral history database, a resource library, and state of the art audio and video technology. The visitor is greeted by a poignant exhibit featuring the front of a period Greyhound bus, and is prompted to enter the Institute using one of two historic doorways: one marked White, the other Colored. Inside the museum, sound experiences and testimonials are among the highlights conveying the highs and lows, pains and celebrations of a national struggle for social justice taking place in a small Georgia town.


A journey through the museum culminates in the experience of walking into the restored Old Mount Zion Sanctuary, where mass meetings were regularly held to rally support for desegregation in the early 1960s, and where the original Freedom Singers began.


Every second Saturday of the month, visitors are treated to a truly stirring performance by the Albany Civil Rights Institute Freedom Singers, founded by Miss Rutha Mae Harris, one of the four founders of the original group in 1962. The brain child of folk singer activist Pete Seeger, and organized in Albany by SNCC, the singers’ task was to rally the spirits of demonstrators and marchers while raising awareness. They sang traditional hymns and spirituals, often changing the words to reflect the modern struggle, even performing for 350,000 people at the 1963 March on Washington.  Original members Rutha Harris, Charles Neblett and Bernice Johnson Reagon sang in Washington again in 2010 when they performed at the White House for President Barack Obama.


If You Go

The Albany Civil Rights Institute is located at 326 West Whitney Avenue in Albany. It is open between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm Tuesday through Saturday, and is closed on Sunday and Monday. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for students, grades 5-college, military, and seniors, $3 for students grades 1-4, and free for children under 4.


For complete visitor, shopping, dining and lodging information, stop by the Albany Welcome Center located at 112 North Front Street, Albany, GA 31701
(229) 317-4760 or visit them online at




More about Dr. King and the Albany Movement

In 1961, three members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were in Albany attempting to help African Americans register to vote. They helped to rally Albany’s divided black population around the cause of unity to form the Albany Movement and to elect a leadership. By mid-December of that year, the leadership had reached out to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his help to bring attention to Albany’s struggle. He spent some time there and attended one of the mass meetings organized at Old Mount Zion Church, bringing the attention of the national media to the small southern hamlet. He was detained in a mass arrest of peaceful demonstrators and declined bail, but was released and left town soon thereafter.


King returned to Albany in June of the following year and was arrested again, this time sentenced to forty-five days or a fine of nearly $200. He elected to stay in jail, but police chief Laurie Pritchett had caught on to his strategy, and quietly arranged for his fine to be paid. He spent only three days in jail, to his chagrin and that of the national media, which had little to report on. Pritchett knew that King and his compatriots wanted to be jailed in an attempt to force negotiations with movement leadership and to fuel demonstrators for the news cameras, so when he used his police force to break up demonstrations, he was careful to do so with nonviolence. He also combated overcrowding in the jail, fodder for the media, by quietly transporting jailed demonstrators to surrounding areas, leaving his own facility with plenty of space and little to photograph.


With little achieved, King and his followers left Albany by August of 1962 and took the media with them. Most of the concessions agreed to by city leaders were stalled or ignored, and the city remained segregated. Although Dr. King and many of the demonstrators felt that the Albany Movement had been a failure, they couldn’t know at the time that the lessons learned there would be the springboard they would need to vault to more successful ventures elsewhere and ultimately change the nation.

Hi- and low-res captioned and credited images available.

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