Museum Traces Civil Rights Struggles City's Albany Movement Detailed in Photos, Reports

The Florida Times Union, June 5, 2000 | Go to article overview

Museum Traces Civil Rights Struggles City's Albany Movement Detailed in Photos, Reports


ALBANY -- Visitors walking into the Albany Civil Rights Movement Museum are immediately confronted by one large image -- a black-and-white photograph of two drinking fountains.

In the 1960s, they stood side by side in the Albany courthouse. The larger one was for whites, and the smaller one was used by blacks.

The photograph and other relics of the segregated South highlight the sometimes bloody struggle to abolish segregation laws in a city where Martin Luther King learned many of the tactics he applied elsewhere. It was also the city where he suffered perhaps his greatest failure.

Located in the old Mount Zion Baptist Church, where King attempted to reinvigorate weary civil rights workers, the museum traces the activities of the "Albany Movement," which sparked marches and protests in 1961 and 1962 aimed at ending segregation in Georgia's fifth-largest city.

"Albany was an example of how to bring an entire community together," said museum curator Angela Whitmal. "You had people of all ages, people representing every economic level. It showed you could mobilize the black community in a big way."

The front half of the sanctuary is preserved as it was when King prayed and spoke there on the evening of Dec. 15, 1961. Plucky "freedom songs" drift through the museum from loudspeakers. Visitors can sit on the old wooden pews and read about the struggle.

The rear half of the room is filled with displays. There's a picture of King having a discussion with the city's police chief, Laurie Pritchett, who had studied the civil rights leader's tactics and used them to help Albany avoid national and international media attention.

Another picture shows a bloodied civil rights worker, attorney C.B. King, who was struck in the head by a billy club in the county jail.

The museum, which opened late in 1998, drew 6,000 visitors last year and expects the same this year.

One exhibit focuses on the importance of the freedom songs that played a key role in the civil rights movement. Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee adopted the singing style, born in Albany's black churches, and sang them at fund-raisers around the country.

A group of Freedom Singers, many of whom took part in the movement, give performances at the museum on the second Saturday of each month.

"That music just inspired people to risk arrest," said Lee Formwalt, an authority on the Albany Movement and a founder of the museum.

Whitmal said the Albany Movement was significant because it influenced blacks throughout southwest Georgia, a largely rural area where racism was heavily entrenched. …

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