Civil Rights Institute receives donation

Photo by Terry Lewis

Photo by Terry Lewis

ALBANY, Ga. -- In the spring of 1972, the Rev. Johnnie Johnson Jr., sick of the discriminatory practices coming from City Hall,walked off his job with the City of Albany's Public Works Department never to return.

More than 260 of his fellow employees walked out with him. Johnson, who had worked for the city since he was a youth, was fired. Months later he filed a lawsuit against the city alleging racial discrimination in hiring, pay, promotion and pensions.

Four years later U.S. District Judge Wilbur Owens ruled in the plantiffs' favor, slapped the city with an injunction ordering the city to increase minority hiring and Albany was forever changed.

On Monday, the Johnson family, donated photographs, legal documents and other items to The Albany Civil Rights Institute that chronicle those seminal moments in the Albany Movement.

Two of Johnson's sons, Yaz and Johnnie P., presented the archive to ACRI Executive Director Lee Formwalt.

"Our father was sick and tired of being sick and tired," Yaz Johnson said. "Even in 1972, unfair labor practices and segregation were rampant in the City of Albany. Black folks could not apply for supervisory positions and he knew this was wrong.

"He did this (walked out and brought suit) for the betterment of all people in Albany. Last night I was looking at the pictures and reading the documents and I thought 'man, that's really unfair what he went through.'"

"He sacrificed his job so that we could live life equally."

The items donated to the ACRI include several photographs, time cards, Johnson's termination notice from the city and a copy of Owen's decision on the lawsuit among other documents.

"This is one of the largest group of documents we have ever received," Formwalt said. "Usually we get things in drips and drabs. This (donation) is remarkable because it is a complete archive of an historic event in the Albany Movement.

"We think these documents will be used in scholarly research for years to come because historians are always rewriting the past."

Formwalt said the documents take on added significance because of the Rev. Martin Luther King's trip to the city in 1962.

"Dr. King's failure to desegregate the city seemed like a bitter chapter in The Albany Movement," Formwalt said. "But it turned out to be a very important chapter in the post-King era. This is just one angle of a complicated prism of events."

Johnnie Johnson, who later operated Southside Barbershop before he died in 2000, never fully explained to his sons the full reasons for his 1972 walk out.

"I asked my father 'why?' one day," Johnnie P. Johnson said. "If you knew my dad, he was always evasive with an answer because there was so much pain to our family involved in his decision.

"He never answered definitively because there was too much pain involved in the memories."