In the Beginning – the Albany Civil Rights Movement

Dr. William G. Anderson D.O.
Past President of the Albany Civil Rights Movement

The Albany Civil Rights Movement, much like many other Civil Rights Movements in this country, started not as a SPARK ignited by a planned revolution initiating from a long-standing organization, like NAACP or Urban League, but rather initiated by a group of college students ... including many from Albany State College. There were many college students ... not just from Albany State College, but also including volunteer students from many colleges from many parts of the United States.

The message to Albany, Georgia and many other cities, towns and its institutions was quite obvious ... "WE ARE SICK AND TIRED OF THIS SYSTEM OF SEGREGATION AND DISCRIMINATION ... AND WE ARE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE".

It did not take long for the message to travel throughout the country and beyond as the demonstrating crowds of students and eventually adults grew rapidly and attracted the attention of thousands of all ages, races, cultures and the rich and the poor.

Elected officials of the city of Albany were requested to select a group from it's ranks that would meet with a comparable group from the demonstrators ... now numbering in the thousands ... and seek an amicable solution to the many issues that were keeping us apart. A committee from the Council met yet did not include any representatives from the demonstrators.

I attended the following City Council Meeting where I had presented the resolution that merely asked ... in the beginning ... let us name representatives from the city and a similar group from the demonstrators to meet and seek some agreements.

The City Council next met ... in private ... behind closed doors ... and the Mayor reported the response to representatives from the demonstrators ... the answer ... WE FOUND NO COMMON GROUNDS FROM WHICH WE COULD REACH AGREEMENT. Thus ended the invitation to the Albany City Council from the many students and Albany local residents that were active participants in the demonstrations.

We only had voluntary legal representation by the ONLY THREE LAWYERS THAT WOULD TAKE A CIVIL RIGHTS CASE, especially when there was only very limited ability to pay. The Civil Right Movement should forever remember Attys. C.B. King, Don Hollowell and William Gray. They took the Civil Rights Cases when no other Lawyers would do it ... the small exception may be if enough money was available ... none was for such cases.

What followed was a continuation of demonstrations that included, sit-ins, marches, mass rallies, boycotts. The mass meetings continued to grow filling many churches every night. This series of demonstrations did not receive any positive response but, continued arrest, intimidation, threats and a few bombings of homes and businesses and even many churches. In response to the absence of any positive response from the Albany city officials, the movement continued to grow until there ere many of the demonstrators in jail and attention was drawn to Albany from all over the country.

The high point in the demonstrations was when several thousands were arrested and sent to many of the surrounding jails as the capacity of jails in Albany and in the county far exceeded the capacity of the city to provide any of the basic necessities.

It was at tis point that the Albany Civil Rights leaders were called on to provide some relief for those in prison, including the wives of the leaders of the Movement. And it was at that time that the leaders of the Movement were called on to do something to at least stabilize the movement activities or to find a solution that could provide some relief.

As the President of the Albany Civil Rights Movement, it became [my duty] to produce a workable solution ... at least to improved conditions in and out of the many jails where the Albany Movement demonstrators were "housed".

As President to the Movement, it was thought imperative that I provide some relief. It was at that point when my wife, Norma and I, followed by Slater King, the Vice President, and I called on my friends, Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy, both of whom had been directly involved in Civil Rights activity with success.

Diane Nash and a group from Tennessee charted a bus to join the demonstrations in Georgia, Alabama, and other southern cities. Diana was advised not to take the group to the areas where the demonstrations were taking place and many were injured by the police. Her response was, "We are all fully aware of the dangers that we may face but we are also prepared for it." In fact she said, that all on this bus have already signed their last Will and Trust as they prepared for the worst.

In the [midst] of this, [occurred a] SIGNAL MARCH through the heart of Albany, a section referred to as THE HARLEM of Albany ... Norma (my wife) and I led the March. The local, county and state police had been called in by Albany Police Chief, Laurie Prichett to quell this demonstration that was destroying the city of Albany.

In its effort to stop the march, a young soldier of the state National Guard, stepped in front of the marchers led by SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). Charles Jones, Bernice Johnson, Diane Nash (in advanced pregnancy) and many [others were] arrested for the second time.

The three of us [Dr. King, Rev. Abernathy, and Dr. Anderson were jailed together, in an earlier demonstration. Many calls to the Albany jail urged the police to release Martin Luther King from to jail as he was scheduled to be a guest on MEET THE PRESS the next morning. Dr. King refused to leave the jail as he had committed to stay in jail until an agreement could be made and that all of the demonstrators would be released without posting a bond.

Martin then said, "it is too important to us to get our message out to the world how Blacks and other minorities are being treated in America. We cannot pass up this opportunity to send the message." He then placed three straws in his closed fist and asked each of us to draw one. He stated that the one that drew the short straw was to leave jail and go to New York to appear on Meet The Press. [I] was the one chosen by this exercise. Thus, [I] was promptly let out of jail and sent by air plane to New York where [I] was met my Atty. Clarence Jones who then promptly started the preparation for me to meet the panel on Meet The Press, some of whom were well known segregationists ...if not racists.

Thus, another chapter in the History of the Civil Rights Movement went into the record book... the book of how racism was ... now is... and threatened to exist for future generations. The good news is there is yet HOPE ... we only need OPPORTUNITY for all to be able to participate in the hoped-for democracy.

Copyright © Dr. William G. Anderson. 2021

See Albany GA, Movementfor background & more information.
See also Albany, Americus, & SW Georgia Freedom Movements 1961-1964 for web links.

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