Albany Civil Rights Movement
Although Albany's population in 1961 was 40% African American, the community was marginalized by Albany's defiance of anti discrimination laws. In August 1961 the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and a group of Albany College students began organizing the Black community. They planned a voter registration drive in Albany and surrounding communities as well as bus station sit-ins. By late Fall, the Albany Movement was formed to unite the separate efforts of the many protest groups, including: the NAACP, the Ministerial Alliance, the Federation of Women's Clubs, the Negro Voters League, and the Criterion Club. Dr. William G. Anderson was chosen as its first President.
The first meeting was held on November 25, 1961 at Shiloh Baptist Church because five Black students had been arrested for holding in a sit-in at the Trailways bus station lunch counter, and Albany College had expelled the students in response. The Albany Movement organized a large march to protest the students' expulsion and demand their readmission. Later, a group of Freedom Riders took the bus from Atlanta to Albany and protested by having five white riders enter the Black section and five Black riders enter the white section, without using violence. All 10 Freedom Riders were arrested and charged with trespass. The Albany Movement held a series of mass marches to protest these arrests. After the marches 200 more protesters were arrested. By December 15, 1961, 500 people were in jail and refusing bail.
"During the Albany Movement, courthouses showed how they are flawed places that have not always lived up to their ideals of justice."
In his jail diary for July, Dr. King wrote,
At 10:00 A.M. Judge Durden called the court to order. He immediately began by reading a prepared statement. It said in short that he had found all four defendants guilty. The four defendants were Ralph Abernathy, Eddie Jackson, Solomon Walker, and myself. Ralph and I were given a fine of $178 or forty-five days on the streets. Jackson and Walker were given lesser fines and days, since, according to the judge, they were not the leaders.
Ralph and I immediately notified the court that we could not in all good conscience pay the fine, and thereby chose to serve the time. Eddie Jackson joined us in this decision. Mr. Walker decided to appeal.
After a brief press conference in the vestibule of the court we were brought immediately to the Albany City Jail which is in the basement of the same building which houses the court and the city hall. This jail is by far the worst I've ever been in. It is a dingy, dirty hole with nothing suggestive of civilized society. The cells are saturated with filth, and what mattresses there are for the bunks are as hard as solid rocks and as nasty as anything that one has ever seen. The companionship of roaches and ants is not at all unusual. In several of the cells there are no mattresses at all. The occupants are compelled to sleep on the bare hard steel.
To learn more about the Albany Manifesto, click here to see Stanford University's King Papers collection
In addition to the Movement's interaction with the county courts for violations of local ordinances, the civil rights activists were the targets of litigation in Federal Court. In one case City officials, led by Mayor Asa D. Kelley, sought an injunction banning the picketing, marches and other protests. On July 21, 1962, Federal District Court Judge J. Robert Elliott granted the injunction. Chief Federal Appellate Court Judge Elbert P. Tuttle reversed the order on July 24. During the Albany Movement, courthouses showed how they are flawed places that have not always lived up to their ideals of justice.
The Albany Movement Ends
Dr. William G. Anderson had invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to address a mass rally of over 1,000 protestors. After the rally, King and 250 demonstrators marched to City Hall and were arrested for failure to obtain a license. They vowed to refuse bail and stay in jail until their desegregation demands were met. Albany Movement leaders made a deal with local government leaders specifying that the local government would release the demonstrators, desegregate train and bus stations, and listen to the protesters' demands. The City of Albany soon violated the agreement by continuing to enforce its segregation policies. By August 1962 the Albany Movement had ended. While many of its goals were not met, it inspired Albany's Black citizens to continue challenging segregation and gave national civil rights leaders a place to practice their skills before putting them to the test in Birmingham.