Ex-Albany Civil Rights Institute Director Lee Formwalt wins Lillian Smith Book award

Jul 27, 2015

By Terry Lewis, Albany Herald

ALBANY — Former Albany Civil Rights Institute (ACRI) Executive Director Lee Formwalt’s book, “Looking Back, Moving Forward: The Southwest Georgia Freedom Struggle, 1814-2014,” has been selected as one of two books from 42 nominees to receive the 2015 Lillian Smith Book Award.

#The awards are presented by the Southern Regional Council, the University of Georgia Libraries, the Georgia Center for the Book and Piedmont College. This year’s awards ceremony, presented as part of the Decatur Book Festival, will take place in the DeKalb County Public Library on Sept. 6.

“I knew the book was nominated, but actually winning the award was huge surprise to me,” Formwalt said. “There was solid competition because a lot of books had come out this past year.”

Formwalt has been researching and writing southwest Georgia history for nearly four decades, since he began teaching history at Albany State College (now University) in 1977. He moved to Bloomington, Ind., in 1999 to lead the Organization of American Historians for 10 years.

In 2009 he returned to Albany for a two-year stint as executive director of ACRI. In 2010 he raised $25,000 to produce a souvenir book on the Albany Movement for sale in the ACRI gift shop. After retiring to Bloomington, Formwalt agreed to write the book which placed the 1961-1962 Albany Movement in the broader context of the 200-year Southwest Georgia Freedom Struggle. The book was completed and published in 2014.

“I am honored and humbled,” Formwalt said of the award named for the celebrated author of the 1944 best-selling novel ‘Strange Fruit’ and the 1949 critique of segregation, ‘Killers of the Dream.’ Previous award winners include the likes of Alice Walker, Pat Conroy, and Alex Haley.

“Those are some huge footsteps to follow in,” Formwalt said.

While pleased with the award, Formwalt said the motivation behind the book was the help the ACRI.

“I find the award personally gratifying, but the reason behind the book was that it be a vehicle for raising money to support the Albany Civil Rights institute,” Formwalt said. “It’s nice to work on a book for much of your career and to see it appreciated is really gratifying … and I hope it helps (the ACRI) sell more books.”

Copies of “Looking Back, Moving Forward” are available at the ACRI gift shop, 326 Whitney Avenue, and the Albany Welcome Center gift shop, 112 N. Front Street. All proceeds from book sales go to the support of ACRI.

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