The Albany Movement

Posted on 5/30/2014 by Rashelle

Categories: History

Earlier this month, the Albany Civil Rights Institute held its first annual Community Service Gala, selling out tables at the Hilton, and making our community so very proud.

It occurs to us, though, that there are so many southerners and even Georgians who aren’t aware of Albany’s significance in the American Civil Rights Movement, or why we have a Civil Rights Institute here. Sometimes, painful events in history are glossed over in school or even left out entirely to spare participants the ache of re-opening old wounds, but as time marches on, successive generations may forget about these events entirely.

In the 1950s and 60s, contention which would eventually come to be known as “The Civil Rights Movement” was spreading across the south. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and others had been campaigning to eliminate racial segregation and disenfranchisement across the country when in 1961, three members of the SNCC came to Albany to help black Georgians register to vote. 

albany herald

The SNCC helped to rally Albany’s divided black population around the cause of unity to form the Albany Movement and elect a leadership.

By mid-December, the Movement’s leadership had reached out to Dr. King for his help to bring attention to Albany’s struggle. He arrived in town, attended a mass meeting at Old Mt. Zion Church, marched, and was jailed. Although it was one of Dr. King’s primary tactics to garner publicity for himself and his cause by remaining incarcerated for unjust crimes, many white public officials were more than happy to oblige him. This tactic was unsuccessful in Albany, however, as his fines and those of his companion were anonymously paid and they were released. Another of his tactics had been for so many marchers to become incarcerated that they would fill the jails past their capacity. But the police chief in Albany circumvented Dr. King’s strategy again by arresting protesters and jailing them in surrounding counties, leaving plenty of space in his own facility.

By August 1962, Dr. King gave up on the Albany Movement and left the city, but took with him the lessons learned there to Birmingham where he applied them in a more successful bid to advance the cause of civil liberties for all. Although considered an unsuccessful early attempt at remaking an unjust society, Albany is noted as a key step in the ultimate battle for civil liberties.

Today, Albany resident and guests can visit the Albany Civil Rights Institute, consisting of the church where one of the first mass meetings of the Albany Movement was held, and a civil rights museum boasting over 12,000 square feet! And even more special is the opportunity every first Saturday of each month to hear Albany’s Freedom Singers performing at Old Mt. Zion Church. The Freedom Singers were originally organized in 1960 to travel the country and raise money for the SNCC and to inform locals about grassroots organizing for the cause. Singing had long been a part of the campaign for equality, and Dr. King recognized the value of the Freedom Singers to raise spirits as well as funds, and to share the plight of southern blacks with a national audience. If you hear them sing today, you’ll be treated to a performance by Rutha Mae Harris, one of the original Freedom Singers who has been with the group since its inception. One thing is for sure though; a visit to the Civil Rights Institute will leave you with spirit soaring as high as Miss Harris’ soprano.

For more information on the Albany Civil Rights Institute, the Freedom Singers, or the Albany Movement, visit the links below.

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