Albany Movement

Albany Movement

The Albany Movement was a desegregation coalition formed in Albany, Georgia, on November 17, 1961. Local activists, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) were all involved in the movement. The movement was led by William G. Anderson, a local black physician. In December 1961, Martin Luther King, Jr and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference became involved.

The Albany Movement mobilized thousands of citizens and attracted nationwide attention but failed to accomplish its goals because of a determined opposition. However, it was credited as a key lesson in strategy and tactics for the national civil rights movement. [ [ Albany GA, Movement] ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans]


Voter registration drives, petitions, and other activism had been ongoing in Albany for decades. However, a new phase of the campaign began with the arrival of three young SNCC activists, Charles Sherrod, Cordell Reagon, and Charles Jones. The three helped encourage and coordinate black activism in the city, culminating in the founding of the Albany Movement as a formal coalition. [ [ History of the Movement] Albany Civil Rights Movement Museum] It quickly became a broad-front nonviolent attack on every aspect of segregation within the city. Bus stations, libraries, and lunch counters reserved for White Americans were occupied by African Americans, boycotts were launched, and hundreds of protesters marched on City Hall.

The Albany police chief, Laurie Pritchett, carefully studied the movement's strategy and developed a strategy he hoped could subvert it. He used mass arrests but avoided the kind of dramatic, violent incidents that might backfire by attracting national publicity. Pritchett arranged to disperse the prisoners to county jails all over southwest Georgia to prevent his jail from filling up. The Birmingham Post-Herald believed that "The manner in which Albany's chief of police has enforced the law and maintained order has won the admiration of... thousands." [ [ The Limits of Non-Violence] "Eyes on the Prize" ~ PBS]

Dr. King's involvement

Prior to the campaign, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference had been criticized by the SNCC, who felt he had not fully supported the freedom rides of that summer. Some SNCC activists had even given King the derisive nickname "De Lawd" for maintaining a safe distance from challenges to the Jim Crow laws. [ [ Martin Luther King's Style of Leadership] BBC] When King first visited on December 15 1961, he "had planned to stay a day or so and return home after giving counsel." [King, Martin Luther. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. New York: Warner Books, 1998] But the following day he was swept up in a mass arrest of peaceful demonstrators, and he declined bail until the city made concessions. "Those agreements", said King, "were dishonored and violated by the city," as soon as he left town. [King, Martin Luther. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. New York: Warner Books, 1998]

King returned in July 1962, and was sentenced to forty-five days in jail or a $178 fine. He chose jail. Three days into his sentence, Chief Pritchett discreetly arranged for King's fine to be paid and ordered his release. "We had witnessed persons being kicked off lunch counter stools ... ejected from churches ... and thrown into jail ... But for the first time, we witnessed being kicked out of jail." [King, Martin Luther. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. New York: Warner Books, 1998]

After nearly a year of intense activism with few tangible results, the movement began to deteriorate. During one demonstration, black youth hurled rocks and bottles at Albany police. King requested a halt to all demonstrations and a "Day of Penance" to promote non-violence and maintain the moral high ground. Later in July, King was again arrested and held for two weeks. Following his release, King left town.


King and much of the national civil rights movement regarded the Albany campaign as a limited success, won at perhaps too high a cost. Despite the mobilization of virtually the entire black community in Albany, few concessions were achieved from the city government. Divisions between radical and moderate blacks were beginning to tell, and the black community seemed to be tiring faster than the city. After Albany, King decided on more tightly focused activism aimed at scoring specific, symbolic victories. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference moved on to cities like Birmingham and Selma, Alabama, where local police took a much harder line and created violent incidents which brought attention and sympathy to the cause.

Historian Howard Zinn, who played a role in the Albany movement, contested this interpretation in chapter 4 of his autobiography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train" (Beacon Press, 1994; new ed. 2002): "That always seemed to me a superficial assessment, a mistake often made in evaluating protest movements. Social movements may have many 'defeats'—failing to achieve objectives in the short run—but in the course of the struggle the strength of the old order begins to erode, the minds of people begin to change; the protesters are momentarily defeated but not crushed, and have been lifted, heartened, by their ability to fight back" (p. 54).

Local activism continued even as national attention shifted to other issues. That fall an African-American came close to being elected to city council. Next spring, the city struck all the segregation ordnances from its books. According to Charles Sherrod, "I can’t help how Dr. King might have felt, or ... any of the rest of them in SCLC, NAACP, CORE, any of the groups, but as far as we were concerned, things moved on. We didn’t skip one beat." In 1976, he was elected a city commissioner.

Later referring to the setbacks of The Albany Movement in his autobiography, King had this to say:

The mistake I made there was to protest against segregation generally rather than against a single and distinct facet of it. Our protest was so vague that we got nothing, and the people were left very depressed and in despair. It would have been much better to have concentrated upon integrating the buses or the lunch counters. One victory of this kind would have been symbolic, would have galvanized support and boosted morale ... When we planned our strategy for Birmingham months later, we spent many hours assessing Albany and trying to learn from its errors. Our appraisals not only helped to make our subsequent tactics more effective, but revealed that Albany was far from an unqualified failure. [ [ The Albany Movement] ~ Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr: Chapter 16]

External links

* [ The Albany Movement] (New Georgia Encyclopedia entry)

* [ Albany GA, Movement] ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans


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