I made my entrance onto the stage of life in Albany, Georgia on August 29, 1939 as the oldest of five children born to Paul Lawrence Jones a carpenter, and Delores Berry Jones, a homemaker who hand-washed and ironed laundry for white clients. I was reared in a loving extended family home that included my maternal grandparents and, for a time, great grandfather. My formative years played themselves out in a nurturing, supportive community that included the First Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church where I was baptized, attended church and Sunday School, participated in the church s Christmas and Easter programs, sang in the junior choir and acted as secretary of the Sunday School and secretary of the Baptist Training Union.
Beginning around 1943, I became aware of the stories my family told on the front porch in summer and around the fireplaces in winter — stories about slavery, stories about how hard their lives had been and stories about what had happened in the past and was still happening to colored people at the hands of white people.
My grandfather told me about his grandfather who had been a slave in Alabama as a child and had learned blacksmithing. When he moved to Albany years after slavery ended, he had made most of the farm tools in the early 1900s for colored and white farmers. My grandmother told me how the Ku Klux Klan had chased her from downtown Albany in 1917, when she was 13, because the sun had gone down and she was still on the streets. She also told me how, in 1921, two policemen had made her get up from where she was sitting on her front porch and go into her house. They told her that she did not have any business sitting on the front porch like a white lady and that she had better be on the first cotton truck that came by the next morning.
A carpenter, my father talked about how he had to scrounge for work because white contractors and builders did not hire black men as carpenters but as low-wage laborers. The laborers had to do the dirty, heavy work and whatever else the white carpenters told them to do — including holding nails. My father's hand was injured when he was hit deliberately with a hammer while holding a nail for a white carpenter. My mother, usually a shy, unassuming person, told how as a child of about ten she was given a pair of rickety skates by a white woman who sold products in black neighborhoods from the trunk of her car. Since there were no paved streets in her neighborhoods, my mother walked north until she came to pavement in white neighborhoods. She skated happily until the police appeared, chased her from the area and told her to go back where she belonged.
It was from my mother that I learned my family had joined the NAACP before Albany had a chapter and had sent their dues to its home office in another state. She said the NAACP was an organization that would help colored people when they were mistreated. She said paying dues was their way of doing their part to help advance our race. I felt proud of that, although I did not really understand what she was talking about. All of their stories always ended with them telling me to get a good education so you can do your part to help make things better for yourself and for the next generation. Some of those nightly stories make me angry and some made me proud. I was angry with the Klan, the policemen, slave owners and the contractors; but I was proud of my great-great grandfather and the tools he made. I was proud of my mother's spunk and determination to skate. But through all of my childhood, I wondered and worried about what I could do to make things better, especially when, at an early age I became a victim of discrimination.
At age four, I was not allowed to use the bathroom by a salesclerk in a well-known department store. I soiled myself while white adults and children laughed and pointed at me. That kind of behavior by adults was new, puzzling and humiliating to me. In my neighborhood, adults looked after children; they would have allowed me or any child to use the bathroom and would have come to the aid of any child. Accompanying my father downtown when I was 5, I was ignored by a department store Santa Claus as I stood in line to see him. He reached around me, pulled the white children to him and talked to them one by one. My father had allowed me to get in line because he thought that Santa would see me — there was no white only sign, and he had rationalized that Santa Claus would not reject any child. He was wrong.
From Mercer and Madison Elementary Schools to Carver Junior High and Monroe High Schools, the segregated public schools of Albany presented me with a mixed bag of educational experiences. I was exposed to stern but caring black teachers who supplemented the inadequate second-hand materials passed down to us from the white schools.
Black students shared textbooks that had missing pages, pages replete with hand-written racial epithets and pages with inked-out words and sentences. Despite such obstacles, I received a well-rounded elementary and high school education complete with extra-curricular activities such as dramatics, choir and sports as well some Negro history on the side. But having been a victim of discrimination and racism over the years since the age of four and having listened to my families stories about slavery and segregation, I was filled with anger and resentment. I knew that I wanted a better life and that my family expected me to get a good education so you can do your part to help make things better for yourself and the next generation. I wanted that, too, but I wondered what my family thought I could do that would matter and make a difference.
I tried to create ways of handling my feelings so that my family would not know how badly I was affected. ... In junior high school, I began to drink from the white only water fountains in downtown stores. I felt a sense of satisfaction when an irate salesclerk or an outraged white customer would yell at me. I would look at them and think: There. The deed is done. Are you going to stop drinking from the fountain? Only on rare occasions did I ride the bus to and from downtown. I hated sitting in the back.
During high school, I was one of the first five black students to participate in a work experience program sponsored by the Dougherty County Board of Education. The program had previously been offered only in the white high school, but after years of trying to get the program in our high school, Benjamin B. White, the teacher of the Diversified Cooperative Training class (DCT) was successful. A student in his class, I left school at noon each day to receive on-the-job secretarial training at Coachman Park Elementary School. The program also provided me with graduation credits and a small monthly salary.
Although I had been told all of my life to get a good education, I learned in my senior year of high school that my family could not afford to send me to college. I think they had expected to have saved up the money, but hard times had prevented that from happening. So After I graduated in 1958, I looked for a job and was hired by Attorney C.B. King as his secretary. After several months, Attorney King encouraged me to try to go to Albany State College because, he said, You are college material.
He even talked to my father about it. My father did not think he could manage to send me, but he struggled, working two and three jobs, and paid for my tuition. I managed to get a part-time job in the College Admissions office. I learned that the student elected to be college queen would receive a scholarship for the year she reigned as well as a fellowship to graduate school. From that time on, my goal was to become Miss Albany State College so I could get the education my family and I wanted me to have. In order to do that I knew I had to become a student leader. I vowed that if my fellow students saw fit to elect me to offices that would elevate me to student leader, then I would do all that I could to represent them and to help solve the problems that existed on the campus such as inadequate security, inadequate food/food service and suppression of students rights.
My introduction to strategic or planned activism that I call Phase 1, took place in 1959 when I became a member of the NAACP Youth Council, which was not affiliated with the college. Our first project was to convince the white owner of a drugstore in our community to hire a black person in the store, besides the delivery boy. We failed, but I felt that it was a good start. I felt uplifted about being around people who wanted to do something to make a difference in all of our lives.
In 1959, I persuaded two classmates to sit-in with me in the white only outdoor seating area at a take-out eating place, The Artic Bear. Only after a white passer-by complained did the manager ask us to leave. I refused and convinced the others to stay and finish the meal as the manager watched from inside. He did not call the police. I felt exhilarated and told several people on campus about my experience. I felt that something important had happened. The Artic Bear continued its segregation policy, but I felt good that I had protested it, had defied it. I also felt good that the people who knew would tell others.
Phase 2 of my activism took place on campus from the fall of 1959 through the spring of 1961 when I was able to become a member of groups that sought to improve conditions on the campus: Student Government (SGA); Women's League of which I was elected president; the Day Student Council and the College Disciplinary Board which was opened to students only after the college hired a new Dean of Students, Irene Asbury, in 1960. She held a week-long conference for all student leaders, empowering us, especially the SGA. She informed us of our rights as students and made it possible for students to have representation on the College Disciplinary Committee. I was one of the students appointed by the president of SGA to serve on that committee. I held other offices and titles (Miss Alpha, Miss Charm, Basileus of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Sports Editor of the college paper, member of Pan-hellenic Council, International Club) that helped me win the votes of the students for the title Miss Albany State College, 1961-62. I was relieved; my education was assured or so I thought.
From the fall of 1960 until the summer of 1961, I was very vocal and active in trying to get the college administration to address the problems on campus — white men driving through the campus throwing rotten eggs, bags of ice and balloons filled with urine on the students; shooting in the air; side-swiping students, burning a cross on campus and invading a females dormitory. As Executive Secretary of SGA, I helped compose letters sent to the local newspaper protesting the racist diatribes on a local radio station (concerning the desegregation of the University of Georgia by Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes) and protesting the segregation laws in Albany.
SGA presented the president of the college with a list of questions concerning problems on campus. All of those actions led to the disbanding of SGA and the padlocking of its office door by the president. He refused to meet with Dean Asbury to discuss the college's attitude and treatment towards its students so she resigned and was replaced by Dean Charles Minor.
In October, 1961, Phase 3 began when I met Charles Sherrod and Cordell Reagon, two field secretaries from SNCC who came on campus asking for me and Bernice Johnson. Our names had been given to them by members of the Lincoln Heights Improvement Association, a group of concerned black citizens who felt we would be interested in SNCC's message. And we were. SNCC was recruiting students to attend meetings concerning preparations for voter registration drives in southwest Georgia. After a few days, I began working in the office they set up on Jackson Street, typing, mimeographing and disseminating flyers about meetings and workshops. I hosted a nonviolent workshop in my home. It was during those workshops and SNCC office meetings that I realized I may have found the means to help change things for the better as my family expected, and I could do it in conjunction with others. A weight was lifted from my shoulders. Hearing about direct action and jail without bail and learning and singing Freedom Songs stirred me to become more and more active with SNCC.
See Albany GA, Movement for background information.
Sherrod and Reagon also attended NAACP Youth Council meetings with their message and with the idea of the two groups working together. They continued to come on campus talking to students, even after the College banned them from the campus. Already a thorn in the side of the administration, I was called in to the office of the new Dean of Students and was told by the Director of Field Services, that if I did not divulge the date of the next meeting that my upcoming coronation might not take place. I refused to tell them. That was when I became aware that the scholarships, as badly as I needed them, were no longer such a driving force in my life. I cared more about my campus activism, being loyal to my fellow students and about the work I was doing with the NAACP Youth Council and SNCC. However, the coronation took place as scheduled.
On November 1st, 9 students, mostly NAACP Youth Council members, went into the white only waiting room of the Trailways Bus Terminal to test the Interstate Commerce Commission's ruling that banned segregation of travel facilities. They were told by policemen to leave. The violation was reported to the Justice Department; nothing was done.
On November 17, Phase 4 began for me when the Albany Movement was formed to bring together the different organizations in Albany that sought to eliminate discrimination and racial segregation laws and to promote voter registration in the Black community. The organizations all agreed to work together as the Albany Movement. Dr. William G. Anderson was asked to serve as president. with Slater King as 1st vice president and former Dean Irene Asbury now Wright) as 2nd vice president. Atty. C. B. King was legal counsel. Bernice Johnson and I were asked to serve as student representatives on the Program Committee which involved planning meetings and making arrangements for musical selections.
On November 22, after five students were arrested testing the ICC ruling, three of them — NAACP Youth Council members Evelyn Toney, Julian Carswell and James Wilson — were bailed out in a few hours. Bertha Gober and Blanton Hall, working with SNCC, refused bail. Bernice Johnson and I led a march of more than two hundred students from Albany State s campus to City Hall to protest the trials of the five students and to show support for the two Albany State students who had remained in jail. There were no arrests. We then marched on Albany State's campus, through main buildings and classrooms to get students who had not marched earlier to come to a rally on campus. The next day, I received a letter from the president of the college stating that I was fired from a position I had just started in the English Department.
On Thanksgiving Day at the Albany State-Fort Valley State Classic Football Game, I showed up for my first outing as Miss Albany State College — appearing with Miss Fort Valley State at half- time — dressed in black instead of the blue and gold I was expected to wear. Other black-clad students and I sang Freedom Songs instead of cheers in protest of the suspension of Bertha Gober and Blanton Hall from Albany State. Still in jail, they had received letters of suspension from the college. Needless to say, I was not invited to the usual after-game dinner at the president s home.
On December 10, the ICC ruling was tested again by a group of 9 Freedom Riders who came from Atlanta to Albany on a Central of Georgia train. James Forman, Executive Secretary of SNCC; Norma Collins, SNCC s Atlanta Office Manager; Bob Zellner, a member of SNCC's White Student Project and Lenore Taitt, a SNCC volunteer. They were accompanied by Per Laursen, a writer from Denmark; Bernard Lee of SCLC; Tom Hayden of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and his wife, Sandra, AKA Casey and Joan Browning, a young southern white girl. Arriving in Albany, they entered and exited the white waiting room without incident. Outside the station a large group of black citizens greeted them as well as Chief Pritchett and his men. As the Freedom Riders begin to get into cars to depart, they were arrested along with SNCC bystanders Bertha Gober and Charles Jones.
I was arrested on December 12 with a group of 265 people as we circled the City Hall block in a protest march against the arrests of the Freedom Riders at the train station and against their ongoing trial. We were arrested and herded into the alley next to City Hall (now named Freedom Alley) where we stood in the rain for about 2 hours waiting to be booked. I cut line to assure my arrest because I knew the jail could not hold us all. We were placed twenty four to each four capacity cell for hours before some were transferred to the County jail. Because of lack of jail space, Chief Pritchett had some of us bused to jails in other counties without letting our families know. I was one of 40 women bused to Newton, GA in Bad Baker County. Marion King, wife of Albany Movement vice president Slater King, was among those women as was 73-year-old Mary Williams who was the oldest person arrested in that first group.
At noon on the first day of being in Newton, the door to the jail was flung wide. One of Newton s finest placed a cardboard box in the doorway and kicked it into the room with such force that it was spinning as it came to the center of the floor — lunch was served without so much as a bon appetit. After lunch, a Newton policeman ushered in several white men to look us over. Minutes passed as they walked around us, staring. The policeman had to raise his voice to get them to leave. When they left, Marion King told us that the men might come back and that we might have to fight; but they did not so we did not.
While I was in jail, other marches and arrests were going on and 500 people in all had been arrested. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr of SCLC was invited to speak at a mass meeting and to join a march; he and the 200 or more in the group were arrested, bringing the total to 700. After refusing to meet with black citizens for years, the city finally agreed to meet with Atty. King, Marion Page and Atty. Donald Hollowell in separate rooms, refusing to be in the same room with the black men. A truce was called. Mass demonstrations were called off indefinitely in what was referred to as a cooling off period. All prisoners were released except the Freedom Riders; the bus and train terminals were promised to be desegregated and the city agreed to meet with representatives from the black community in the future.
Not long after being released, I was expelled from Albany State, five months before graduation. I had been crowned Miss Albany State in November and expelled in December. Therefore, there were no scholarships for me. But by then, it no longer mattered. I had a deeper need and commitment, and I felt that somehow, I would finish college. With mass demonstrations banned, I continued participating in very small protests. Bernice Johnson, Andrew Williams and I tried to use the public library and were threatened with arrest. Blanton Hall, Charles Jones and I tried to buy coffee at the lunch counter at the Trailways Bus Station and were threatened with arrest. We chose not to be arrested because we thought the city might renege on the truce. I then attended SCLC's week-long Citizenship Training School in Dorchester, GA., returned to Albany, set up a Citizenship School and began teaching unregistered citizens simple mathematics, civics, reading and writing at the school and in their homes so they could register to vote for the first time.
In mid January, 1962, I entered Spelman College in Atlanta, having received scholarships from Spelman, The American Baptist Home Mission Society and the National Council of Negro Women due to the efforts of Irene Asbury Wright, Howard Zinn, Troas Latimer and James Forman. While at Spelman I attended meetings of the Atlanta Student Movement and participated in a protest march to Grady Hospital to encourage the hiring of more black employees. I did volunteer work at SNCC's office in Atlanta, participated in activities led by Vincent Harding at the Mennonite House, attended programs at the Quaker House and commuted to Albany on week-ends and during holidays and summer vacations to continue working with SNCC and the Albany Movement.
In the summer of 1962, I led a successful march designed to get the attention and involvement in the movement of a certain section of Albany. During the arrests, the outcries of bystanders appeared to make the policemen feel threatened, and they drove the paddy wagon away without arresting all of us. During the summer of 1962, I participated in SCLC's Voter Registration Project under the direction of Rev. Fred Bennett.
During the 1963 Albany Summer Project, dozens of college students, mostly white, came to volunteer with SNCC from many colleges and Universities: Yale, Brandeis, Rutgers, Skidmore Swarthmore, Bernard Trinity, Earlham and others. We all attended SNCC's orientation sessions at Koinonia Farm, an interracial cooperative [near] Americus, GA. where the students received training and survival skills. Afterwards some students went to other southern cities and states and some remained in Albany, living with families or at the Women s Federated Clubhouse.
Sixty-three-year-old Dora White (Miss Dora) and I prepared breakfast and dinner for 14 of the students everyday at her house. Every morning, I would go to her house and help cook and serve before going out to canvass. As I canvassed I would ask for donations of food to feed the students. My father and I would pick them up later. Then I would return at 4 o clock to help with dinner. After Miss Dora had a stroke, I prepared both meals at my house until the students left in the fall to return to college or to go to another city or state to volunteer.
Also in the summer of 1963, I was arrested along with one of the white students, Felicia Oldfather, for distributing leaflets announcing the time of a called mass meeting. She and I were later paired by Sherrod to canvass in C.M.E., a section of Albany containing many gangs. Our first day out, we were followed closely by the police who happened to see us and figured we were outside agitators. We sought refuge in one of the houses for a long time until they finally drove away. Realizing we would attract police attention, Sherrod split us up and paired me with James Daniels, called Blue, who was the leader of a gang in C.M.E. As I canvassed for a week he walked with me to keep gang members from bothering me for infringing on their territory. But that is another story...
Later, one summer night, when the police had surrounded SNCC's office in an attempt to arrest all of us and defuse the Movement, I devised a plan of escape from the office which got us to a house that was our first step to safety. With the white students hidden on the floor of his car, Rev. Samuel Wells, accompanied by school teacher McCree Harris, drove us to sanctuary at Beulah Baptist Church where we spent the night. The next day, I went home. The others were moved to Shiloh Baptist Church and were arrested one by one as they ventured out. They were later bailed out of jail. I skipped the fall, 1963 semester at Spelman, stayed in Albany and worked with SNCC until January, 1964, when I returned to Spelman.
Throughout my involvement with the Civil Rights Movement, I had the support of my family who felt I was living up to their expectations. When I see some of the long-term positive results of The Albany Movement in Albany (desegregation, biracial governing and law enforcement, job opportunities, Albany Civil Rights Institute, to name a few) I am glad I was a part of I and wish I could have done more.
Postscript: In 2010-11, with a variety of year-long activities, Albany State (now University) recognized all of the former Albany State students who were suspended or expelled in 1961-62 as having made positive contributions in civil rights to the college, to the City of Albany and to the nation. Historian Racquel Henry was hired specifically to coordinate a series of participatory events for the former students. All expulsions were revoked and as a symbolic gesture the title of Miss Albany State College 1961-62 was restored to me, and I was re-crowned as such on October 3, 2010 during the coronation of Miss Albany State 2010-11. I was also asked to deliver the Homecoming Convocation Address. As part of the December 2011 Commence Exercises, we all listened to cultural historian Bernice Johnson Reagon as she delivered the Commencement Address. She and the rest of us received honorary degrees from Albany State University 50 years after the fact.
Copyright © Annette Jones White 2013