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|Part of the Civil Rights Movement|
|Date||October 1961 – August 1962|
|Location||Albany, Georgia in Dougherty County and adjacent counties - Baker, Lee, Mitchell, Sumter, and Terrell|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
The Albany Movement was a desegregation coalition formed in Albany, Georgia, on November 17, 1961, by local activists, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The organization was led by William G. Anderson, a local black Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. In December 1961, Martin Luther King, Jr and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) became involved in assisting the Albany Movement with protests against racial segregation.
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 Civil Rights Movement.
Voter registration drives, petitions, and other civil rights related activity 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.
Initially the established African-American leadership in Albany was resistant to the activities of the incoming SNCC activists. C. W. King, an African-American real estate agent in Albany, was the SNCC agents' main initial contact. H. C. Boyd, the preacher at Shiloh Baptist in Albany allowed Sherrod to use part of his church to recruit people for meetings on nonviolence. The situation in Albany had been seen as bad by many African Americans, with sexual assaults by white men on African-American female students at the African-American Albany State College ignored by the police, and The Albany Herald taking a very negative approach to covering African Americans.
Thomas Chatmon, the head of the local Youth Council of the NAACP, initially was highly opposed to Sherrod and Reagon's activism. As a result of Chatmon pressing his opposition some members of the African-American Criterion Club in Albany considered driving Sherrod and Reagon out of town, but they did not take this action.
Sherrod and his associates planned to stage an attempt to end the segregation of the bus depot in Albany, in accord with the orders of the Interstate Commerce Commission that bus depots serving interstate passengers must not be segregated. In response to this, Albany Mayor Asa Kelley, the city commission, and police chief Laurie Pritchett formulated a plan to arrest anyone who tried to press for desegregation on charges of disturbing the peace.
Reagon and Sherrod tried to organize a test of the segregation situation in Albany on Nov. 1, 1961, as part of a multi-state plan formulated by Gordon Carey of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE). Some African-American students entered the white waiting room, but they left when ordered to do so by police, and no arrests were made that day. In response to this, attendance at the meetings run by Sherrod and Reagon on nonviolent resistance to unjust laws increased, and they also began to hold workshops on voter registration.
At the same time, C. W. King's son, C. B. King, a lawyer, was pushing the case of Charles Ware from nearby Baker County, Georgia against Sheriff L. Warren Johnson of that county for shooting him multiple times while in police custody. These developing conditions where the limits of segregation and oppression of African Americans were being tested led to a meeting at the home of Slater King, another son of C. W. King, including representatives of eight organizations. Besides local officers of the NAACP and SNCC, the meeting included Albany's African-American Ministerial Alliance, as well as the city's African-American Federated Women's Clubs. Most of the people at this meeting wanted to try for negotiation more than direct action. They formed the Albany Movement to coordinate their leadership, with William G. Anderson made president on the recommendation of Slater King, and Slater King was made vice president. The incorporation documents were largely the work of C. B. King.
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 violent incidents that might backfire by attracting national publicity. He used non-violence against non-violence to good effect, thwarting King's "direct action" strategy. Pritchett arranged to disperse the prisoners to county jails all over southwest Georgia to prevent his jail from filling up. The Birmingham Post-Herald stated: "The manner in which Albany's chief of police has enforced the law and maintained order has won the admiration of... thousands."
In 1963, after Sheriff Johnson was acquitted in his federal trial in the Ware case, people connected with the Albany Movement staged a protest against one of the stores of one of the jurors. This led to charges of jury tampering being brought.
Prior to the movement, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference had been criticized by the SNCC, who felt he had not fully supported the Freedom Rides. Some SNCC activists had even given King the derisive nickname "De Lawd" for maintaining a safe distance from challenges to the Jim Crow laws. When King first visited on December 14, 1961, he "had planned to stay a day or so and return home after giving counsel." 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 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 during the sit-ins, ejected from churches during the kneel-ins, and thrown into jail during the Freedom Rides. But for the first time, we witnessed being kicked out of jail." During this time, prominent evangelist Billy Graham, a close friend of King's who privately advised the SCLC, bailed King out of jail.
After nearly a year of intense activism with few tangible results, the movement began to deteriorate. During one demonstration, black youth hurled children's toys and paper balls 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.
Martin Luther 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, Alabama 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 edition 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. The following spring, the city struck all the segregation ordinances 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.
King later said about the setbacks of the Albany Movement:
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.
Charles Sherrod had taken on the repressive forces in Southwest Georgia. Sherrod had taken it upon himself to organize a rally with African Americans and students of the Albany State College in Albany, Georgia. He failed in his attempts to bypass the older black leaders of the NAACP and remove the SNCC organizers at the university despite the support he had gained from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph David Abernathy.
Although the rallies themselves had failed, the Albany Movement provided insight on the media and its relation with white supremacists. The Albany police chief, Laurie Pritchett had reported to the media that he had defeated nonviolent actions with nonviolence and in return the press provided Pritchett with details of what was planned and who the targets were during the Albany Movement, which then caused great distrust among the students and the press.  Although publicity was needed, the distrust everyone who was involved in the rallies felt towards the media could not go unheard. Journalists and the media were banned from mass meetings and conferences.