The Bloody Battleground of Albany
by Slater King
(Acting President, Albany Movement)
Originally published Freedomways, 1st Quarter,
Around 1903, Dr. W.E.B Du Bois came to Albany, Dougherty County,
Georgia, the heart of the black belt, to do a study on the lives of the
Blacks who inhabited the fertile black land. He viewed this study
symbolically as applying to Blacks across the whole of America. He
further stated, "In these chapters I have studied the struggles of the
massed millions of the Black Peasantry."
Since this time, very little has been heard of Albany except that
it was the home of a few Negro notables, such as Congressman
William Dawson, Ray Charles and Dr. Jeanne Noble. Repeatedly, for
seven or eight years, it was also heard of as being one of the
ten fastest growing cities in the United States.
Most people were amazed to read in December, 1961 of 700 Albany
residents going to jail in protest demonstrations. What made
people look at the Albany situation a little closer was that past
civil rights demonstrations, such as the sit-ins and freedom
rides, had involved mainly college youth, but here the total
community was involved, both young and old. Let us look at Albany
and see what factors led to the demonstrations. Its population is
now approximately 60,000, approximately 40 per cent Negro, or
about 24,000. Albany lies in the center of a vast sea of
blackness; excluding the northern metropolitan areas, it is
estimated that only in Mississippi is there a heavier
concentration of Negroes than is found within a 50-mile radius of
Albany. This was a vast slave breeding area in the heart of the
cotton kingdom. Whenever whites were heavily outnumbered, the
severity of the repressive measures used against Negroes
Albany sits in the heart of an area that has a long history of
lynchings and horrible police brutality. There is Leesburg, Lee
County; Newton, Baker County; Dawson, Terrell County; and
Camilla, Mitchell County.
There is no record of any Negro ever having been "officially"
lynched in Dougherty County. It has been thought of as a
"relatively" good town for Negroes, in comparison to the
surrounding towns. Dr. Du Bois stated the following in The
Souls of Black Folk, in 1903:
The Black Belt was not, as many assumed, a movement towards
fields of labor under more genial climatic conditions; it was
primarily a huddling for self-protection, a massing of the black
population for mutual defense in order, to secure the peace and
tranquility necessary to economic advance: In Daugherty County,
Georgia, one can see easily the results of this experiment in
huddling for protection. Only 10 per cent of the adult population
was born in the county, yet the blacks outnumber the whites four
or five to one. There is undoubtedly a security to the blacks in
their very number, of personal freedom from arbitrary treatment
which make hundreds of laborers cling to Dougherty in spite of
low wages and economic distress.
So Albany has been a little more lenient than the surrounding
areas and the following factors may have contributed to it.
There has always been a strong Jewish influence, both economic
Early in the history of Albany there was founded an American
Missionary Association School which helped to lift the
educational and cultural horizon in the community. There has been
relatively a little more wealth in Albany among Negroes than you
would find in comparative southern towns; i.e., ten Negro
families whose wealth exceeds a quarter of a million dollars
each. Another instance: one downtown bank which has six million
dollars in Negro deposits out of a total deposit of 22 million
dollars; a larger number of Negro businesses than would be found
in a comparative southern town of similar size.
Approximately one per cent of the Negro population live
exceedingly well; ten per cent who exist on a median income-such
as teachers, civil service employees at the post office, local
marine base and Turner Air Force Base; while the other 89 per
cent of the masses live on a bare subsistence level. The persons
in the above average and median income groups usually act as a
buffer zone to keep the discontent of the masses quiescent.
Other factors were that there had been a strong Negro voters
league in Albany after suffrage was granted to Negroes in
Georgia. The league was later split by a leadership conflict in
Albany. In the meantime, a staunch segregationist who was a
native New Englander and a graduate of Dartmouth College
purchased the only daily newspaper, a radio station, and put up
the only television station in Albany, which gave him a complete
monopoly of the news media. Another factor was the conservative
leadership that went underground after the 1954 decision. Many of
the officers of the local NAACP were even afraid to accept
membership after 1954.
The Birth of the Albany Movement
The City Commission had a policy of denying all Negro requests.
There was also the continuation of white men constantly invading
the privacy of Albany State College, while the President of the
College would not allow any action to be taken by the more
militant faculty members and students against the guilty parties;
the continued affronts and approaches made to Negro women
attending Albany State College by whites bred discontent. There
were windows broken out of ministers' homes because they dared
request the only local daily, the Albany Herald to
discontinue its abusive treatment of Negroes in the news. The
catalytic agents who helped to channel this discontent were two
student field directors from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee, Atlanta Office; these were Charles Sherrod and Cordell
Reagon. They held mass meetings with the youth and finally some
of this feeling of great discontent under the repressive system
channeled over into the older people. The Albany Movement was
founded because of the rivalry between some of the existing civil
rights organizations, and it was a feeling that if all of the
activities were put under the aegis of one head then the program
could be carried on much more effectively. Therefore, on November
17,1961, The Albany Movement was founded. Dr. W.G. Anderson was
elected president, M.S. Paige, secretary, and I, Slater King,
The aim of the organization is to totally desegregate all city
facilities and secure equal educational and economic
opportunities for every citizen. In an attempt to effect the aims
of the organization, the Albany Movement has petitioned,
attempted to negotiate and protested.
These protest demonstrations involved the whole of the Negro
community and in the summer of 1962, they began anew, and
approximately 2,000 people had been jailed.
After the dust had settled, many people began evaluating the
situation. The whites said that nothing had been gained and that
the Negroes were now further behind than they had ever been. I
think that the immediate reaction of most Negroes, right after
the demonstrations, was the feeling of being let down. For most
expected out of the great emotionalism and drama that was a part
of the first stage of the demonstrations-that these few days of
jailing would act as penance to force the whites to accord to
Negroes the privileges that they had withheld so long. There are
very few visible gains; the municipal buses agreed to desegregate
after the Negroes refused to ride, but the city stubbornly
refused to give any written assurances to the Albany Movement
that it would not harass and intimidate Negro passengers, so the
bus line withdrew and Albany now has no municipal transit system.
The library has been integrated. The city has struck down all of
its statutes involving segregation (this was done to give the
individual businesses a stronger legal basis for the maintenance
of segregation). The public schools have been ordered to
desegregate, by a court order, in September of 1964. Negroes
gained the right to use the interstate bus station waiting rooms
and restaurants without being harassed and intimidated by the
These tangible gains (if they can be called gains) are negligible
and hardly worth mentioning. The main gains that I see are those
that have internally shaken the Negro community.
There is more of a sense of community and identity in the Negro
community than ever before. Crime among Negroes has dropped
There has been a tremendous number of self-help organizations
arising in the Negro community-such as, the teachers volunteering
to teach night classes to the old and to those who were not able
to receive education in the past; the Albany Movement has acted
as the organization to see that to those Negroes who are without,
charity is extended in the form of clothes and food. It has also
attempted to see that for those Negroes who have good minds and
have been unable, because of economic reasons, to secure an
education, some way be found to help them scholastically to
further their education. This has been done in attempting to
propagate many of the policies of Dr. Du Bois, who felt that the
Negro could never advance as long as he allowed his best minds to
wither and atrophy.
Another gain is the breaking down of the snobbishness with which
professional Negroes formerly looked at the Negro masses. Out of
the downtown boycott, the existing Negro businesses have been
strengthened and new ones have been added.
The Movement Educates the Masses
For two years the Movement has been the place where the Negroes
have come for inspiration, to learn Negro history, and to further
the strong feeling of identity, to know that they are not alone,
to learn how politics work, and how they have been taken
advantage of. They have heard speakers with opinions ranging from
Dr. Lonnie X. Cross, representative of the Black Muslims to Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr., representing the integrationist. This
has been a tremendous educative process for the masses.
In the liability ledger, I would state the following items:
In the Albany area, there are so many areas where Negroes need
help and yet there are so few trained people to work. I feel that
we have not brought a wide enough spectrum of speakers before the
people in our meetings; I feel that the socialist should have
been represented by speakers such as Norman Thomas, the Communist
by speakers such as Benjamin Davis, the Black Muslims by such
speakers as Malcolm X and others.
I feel that the masses should be educated by being exposed to all
of the political ideologies and let them decide what assets they
wish to accept or reject in making a new and more workable
We have aroused emotions of the people and whetted their desire
for freedom but we have not done the thorough organizational work
which I think is essential to the success of any movement. You
have to have emotion, but you also have to have discipline,
well-thought-out plans that our best minds must help draft, and
army-like discipline. Most civil rights movements, including
ours, have lacked these.
In my opinion, we have attacked segregation too broadly. We have
really attacked too many areas to do an effective job on anyone
of them. We must now put all of our energies behind one project
at one time, and then move on to another; e.g., in
Savannah, Birmingham, and Albany, all three cities have had
tremendous demonstrations. Savannah has desegregated its hotels,
motels, and movie theaters. Birmingham and Albany desegregated
little or none. The difference is that in Savannah, before
beginning demonstrations, Mr. Hosea Williams, the chairman of the
Chatham County Crusade for Voters, had thoroughly organized the
Negroes in his total Congressional District and had a large
disciplined political machine that moved instantaneously and with
unity. Because of this concentration on the political area in
Savannah, the Negroes had been the balance of power which had
elected the sheriff and mayor.
This is no attempt to state a panacea, but to really be effective
in our Movements across the country, we must unite these three
ingredients: Protest, Political Mobilization, and Economic Unity.
I recently ran for mayor of the city of Albany. The masses of the
Negroes were very enthusiastic towards the candidacy of a Negro
for mayor. It was only among some of the older and professional
Negroes that it was felt that we were moving too rapidly, that a
Negro should not run for the highest office in the city. However,
the candidacy accomplished the following: "
It consolidated the Negro vote" and formed one bloc unit where
Negroes voted 90 per cent together on all of the candidates.
It brought an end to a few Negro ministers and businessmen being
able to sell out the Negro vote for money.
The racists have a monopoly of the news, but through paid
television appearances, we were able to tell the other half of
the story. I stated the Negro demands unequivocally) which opened
many eyes and gained some white supporters.
We created a new image for Negro boys and girls, a quickening
interest in the political, and a desire to take part in the
My candidacy further served as a vehicle to teach Negroes how
politics work. Heretofore, the candidates have come into the
Negro community to pay the Negroes to vote for them. Negroes must
learn that they must support financially the candidate most
interested in their welfare. All expenses for my campaign were
paid for out of the Albany Negro community.
One of the items that we spoke against in the campaign was the
lack of a Negro truant officer in Albany. Now, a trained truant
officer, a college graduate, has been hired.
The massed and unified black voting power frightens many of the
white politicians and will make them grant concessions according
to the number and unanimity of that vote.
It has greatly increased voter registration among Negroes, and
many are continuing to register.
The Federal Government Indicts the Victims
At the beginning of the Movement, we felt that we were not alone
and that the power of the federal government was with us in our
efforts. Though this feeling was rapidly washed away, as many
Negroes began to feel that the FBI was as prejudiced as the local
police, we still were shocked by the series of events that took
On April 8th, there was a trial in Albany, Georgia, of Ware vs
Johnson, involving a Negro, Charlie Ware, who charged that
Baker County sheriff L. Warren Johnson shot and beat him.
On April l2th, a federal jury decided in favor of the sheriff.
Carl Smith, a white grocer, whose store received 99 per cent
Negro patronage, was a juror.
It is alleged by the Justice Department that at the Monday night
meeting on April l5th, Dr. W.G. Anderson, President of the Albany
Movement, mentioned Carl Smith in the course of his remarks.
Saturday, April 20th, some high school students set up a picket
line at the smith store. They demanded that Smith upgrade Negro
employees to responsible positions, such as cashiers. All Negro
employees at the store held menial jobs. Similar campaigns had
been started against employers throughout Albany during the
previous eighteen months.
No picket sign made reference to Smith's service on the jury. The
line lasted about an hour, during which time, several pickets
were arrested, effectively breaking the picket line. The line was
never renewed. Monday, April 22nd, Smith began to move out of the
store, contending that he had been driven out of business by the
boycott. It is alleged that his attorney, B.C. Gardner, member of
the legal firm of Smith, Gardner, Kelley, and Wiggins (Asa Kelley
is Albany's mayor), requested immediate investigation. The
Justice Department conducted the most vigorous prosecution yet
seen in the history of the civil rights movement.
On August 9th, nine Albany leaders were indicted. Anderson,
Luther Woodall, and Robert Colbert were charged with conspiracy
to injure a juror because of his assent to a verdict in clearing
the sheriff in a federal case.
Mrs. Goldie Jackson, Rev. Samuel Wells, Thomas Chatmon, and
Robert Thomas and I were charged with perjury before the grand
jury. The charges state that they either denied having been at a
lawyer's meeting during the week of July 29th or denied
remembering having been there.
Joni Rabinowitl, a white field worker with the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee, working in the- area of voter
registration in Albany was charged with perjury because she said
that she was not at the scene of the picketing.
I am now acting president of the Albany Movement. Mrs. Jackson is
recording secretary and full time employee of the Movement. Rev.
Wells is one of the most active voter registration workers and
led a protest march last July. Chatmon works in the area of voter
registration and was a recent candidate for city commissioner of
the city of Albany. The youth, Robert Colbert, pleaded guilty in
New York and was sentenced to 18 months on a suspended sentence.
Dr. Anderson and Luther Woodall were tried in Albany. There was a
mistrial, and it is alleged that three jurors on the all-white
jury voted for acquittal" The Justice Department has announced
that they will try the Anderson and Woodall cases again in Albany
In the other charges, all defendants were held guilty of perjury
except Mrs. Ella (Goldie) Jackson, whose trial will come up the
:second Monday in January. The five of us who had been found
guilty are Rev. Samuel B. Wells, Joni Rabinowitz, Robert Thomas,
Thomas Chatmon and myself.
As I write this, John L.S. Barnum, treasurer of the Sumter County
Movement in neighboring Americus, Georgia, has also been charged
on two counts of perjury by the grand jury there.
Disillusionment With the Federal Role
As one observes this, one wonders if these perjury cases are
precedents that may be used to stifle civil rights leaders
throughout the south.
This is very hard for us to understand, since the government has
never taken any affirmative action resulting in relief in Albany
where there have been clear violations of Negroes' civil rights.
Examples of such cases are: Walter Harris was shot down in
cold blood on the streets of Albany by the police, Attorney C.B.
King was caned over the head by Dougherty County Sheriff D.C.
Campbell, and required many stitches; William (Bill) Hansen's jaw
was broken and several ribs cracked; my wife, Marion, of Albany,
was beaten and kicked by police, causing the death of our unborn
child; over 100 cases of police brutality have been reported to
the Justice Department. Out of all these cases reported, there
have been no indictments.
From my observations the majority of the black people of Albany
are disillusioned, frightened, and bitter. The faith that they
had in the mighty white federal government has dwindled. They now
seem to feel that they are on their own.
It is reported that the sales of guns and rifles among whites and
blacks is at an all-time high.
There are two growing forces. There is a white opposition that
says, "never" and the ever-growing number of Negroes who say
When two determined forces meet, there can only be a great
conflagration. If the government continues its policy of
evasiveness and its constant attempts to appease the
segregationists who are in high places all over the country,
these two forces will meet in what I am afraid will be a bloody
battleground. I surely do not want to see this, because I feel
that it may spell more loss for the Negroes than for the whites,
but unless the government takes decisive action, all of America
can be hurt.
When Du Bois wrote The Soul of Black Folk, in reference to
this area and Dougherty County, Georgia, he stated that it had
implications for millions of black people. We, too, in Albany,
sixty years later, feel that what has taken place here in the
past, and what takes place in the future will have heavy
implications for twenty million blacks in America.
Copyright © Slater King, 1964.