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Old Mount Zion Church gets restored pews back

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- After two full years of work, the Albany Civil Rights Institute is finally tying a bow around one of its most ambitious projects while unveiling a new sign to help move the group into the next decade.

Fourteen fully-restored church pews are being moved back into the sanctuary of the Old Mount Zion Baptist Church this week, completing the restoration phase of the historic civil rights landmark.

The church, built in 1906, is listed in the U.S. Register of Historical Places and was the focal point of The Albany Movement. The church, says ACRI Executive Director Lee Formwalt, is the heart and soul of the Albany Movement.

"Completing the work on this church is something many never thought we'd live to see the day," Formwalt said. "But the SPLOST funds came through for us, allowing us to fully restore the church."

The 14 restored 12-foot pews are among 32 of the church's long pews which have been restored over the years by Plantation Restorations of Newton. The restoration cost $1,000 for each pew.

Once the latest restorations return home they will join six smaller "deacon" pews and three smaller pews that will boost the sanctuary's seating capacity to 300.

The original Albany Civil Rights Museum at Old Mount Zion opened in 1998 with the front two-thirds of the church restored to the way it appeared in 1961 when the late Martin Luther King Jr. spoke there.

The 18 pews in the rear third of the church were placed into storage and the space used for museum exhibitions.

"Our hope at the time was that we would one day be able to construct a building adjacent to the church to contain our exhibition space," Formwalt said. "When that dream cam true in 2008, we made plans for full restoration of the church. We dismantled the old exhibition over the past year and the pews were taken out of storage and restored."

Plantation Restorations, which had restored the original church woodwork, including the front pews in 1998, spent months mending the 14 pews that were broken or missing parts, and matching stains to the previously restored pews.

Formwalt added that the church will now figure heavily into the ACRI's fund-raising plans with legacy pews (with name plates affixed) being offered for a donation of $5,000 each and through naming rights to the church's stained glass windows at $10,000 each.

Earlier this month, the old "Albany Civil Rights Movement Museum" sign in front of the church was replaced with a new sign indicating the church is part of the ACRI.