Exchange Club of Albany hears history of Institute

Photo by Barry Levine

Photo by Barry Levine

ALBANY, Ga. -- With a touch of history and a look at coming programs, an official from an Albany institution addressed the Exchange Club of Albany members Friday.

As part of the club's ongoing commitment to all aspects of the community it hosted Lee W. Formwalt, executive director of the Albany Civil Rights Institute, for lunch.

"Outside of south Georgia, if someone has heard of Albany, it is usually because of its historic role in the national Civil Rights Movement," Formwalt said. "Civil rights tourism is booming. People going to Memphis and Birmingham and Selma and Alabama and Atlanta need to put us on their agenda."

That tourism would help build the economy of what Formwalt called "the second poorest city in the South."

The civil rights movement in Albany dates back to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking in jam-packed churches, such as Mount Zion Baptist Church, 48 years ago, Formwalt said.

Maids, cooks, yardmen and day laborers had the courage to stand up and not only be counted, but to be arrested in the struggle for their God-given rights, Formwalt said.

To honor the struggle that continues through this day, in 1994 a nonprofit corporation called the Zion Albany Civil Rights Movement Museum Inc. was created. The institute began with groundbreaking in 2008 at the 326 Whitney Ave. site.

The institute has a museum and also features many programs during the year. Every second Saturday of the month at 1 p.m., there is a performance of the institute's Freedom Singers led by Rutha Harris, who also sang with the original Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee group.

It also offers Monthly Community Nights at its location. The next one is July 29 and features a film, "All of My Babies," about Albany midwife Mary Coley, who practiced during Jim Crow days.

In the last six months of 2009, the museum had 1,500 visitors. In the six months so far this year, the museum attracted more than 3,000 visitors.

The commitment to the museum and what he called "The Albany Movement" is growing in the community, Formwalt said. The Exchange Club community gave him a round of applause as he finished.

The recently elected Exchangite of the Year, Gary Graves, agreed with the sentiments Formwalt stated.

"He is right about this being the center of the Civil Rights Movement. I lived in Moultrie and Valdosta," Graves said. "We always thought of Albany as the center of civil rights."