MLK, history remembered

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- Five black teenagers walked into the downtown bus station, sat in a "for whites only" area, defied police orders to leave and were arrested.

It was Nov. 22, 1961 and the Albany Civil Rights movement began testing its nonviolent wings.

Leaders of a 50-year remembrance held on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday Saturday at Shiloh Baptist Church, 325 Whitney Ave., want those born after the movement's start not to forget the struggle those before them underwent.

"In 1961, Albany, Ga., experienced its first civil rights march," said John White, Albany Southern Christian Leadership Conference Conference president. "Fifty years later, we will march to remember and to teach youth that one must strive to achieve and one must be committed to achievement of that which is just, fair, legal and right."

About 200 people in the church, about half under the age of 50, prayed, sang and then retraced the steps of the march led by King.

Before the commemorative march began, Evelyn Tony, one of the jailed in 1961, told the story of her arrest.

"This is a time to reflect and remember and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. and our march to freedom," Tony said. "We heard about the freedom rides, and the lunch counter sit-ins and what they were trying to accomplish. What could we do in a crooked racist town?"

The segregated bus station became the target for integration. Albany Police Chief Laurie Pritchett's jailing of the teenagers and following protests, which result in more than 600 arrests, brought King to Albany.

The community turnout was so large, reported at 1,500 by the Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement website crmvet.org, that King spoke at both Shiloh Baptist Church and Mt. Zion First Baptist Church.

The next day King led a march to City Hall where he and more than 260 marchers were arrested. Eventually he and the others paid fines and were released.

"That was the beginning, right here at Shiloh Church," Tony said. "I challenge you youth to pickup the torch, the torch of freedom and keep the dream alive for the great people here in Albany who kept their back straight and said, 'Yes, we can. We have overcome.' "

In another event honoring King and his legacy, the Albany Police Department's AmeriCorps organization had about 50 people turn out to pick up litter and participate in a silent march from the 530 W. Broad Ave. Community Policing Center down Madison Avenue to the William Binns Community for lunch.