ALBANY, Ga. -- Lee Formwalt described himself as "a skinny white boy growing up in Springfield, Mass." when Martin Luther King Jr., spoke at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in December of 1961, effectively giving rise to the Albany Civil Rights Movement.
Speaking to the Dougherty County Rotary Club at Doublegate Country Club on Tuesday, the historian and former professor of history and dean of the graduate school at Albany State University urged the gathering to learn from history.
"It's impossible to work in Southwest Georgia without confronting the 1960s," Formwalt, said. "While much progress has been made in the past 40 years, much remains to be done."
While the focal point of the past was voters' rights and confronting Jim Crow laws, Formwalt, as director of the ACRI and the Mt. Zion Museum (ACRM), says the emphasis locally now is on preserving and teaching.
"We had a good year providing tours of the ACRM, doubling the number from 2009 in 2010," Formwalt said. "Black and white visitors alike are touched when they visit the museum, yet as with many non-profits, we are struggling financially."
The ARCI currently is conducting a campaign to sell legacy pews for $5,000 and legacy stained glass windows for $10,000. Donors' names are engraved on a tag and placed onto the pew or stained glass.
"We sold three pews and one stained glass last year," Formwalt said. "That helps, but it's not enough. We are rich in building, but otherwise quite poor."
Formwalt urged support for the ACRI and the ACRM.
"The ACRI needs to play an important role in this community," Formwalt said. "We are working right now to get Albany on the Civil Rights Tour map. Julian Bond in coming in March and that will be a big step forward."
Bond, an iconic figure in the Civil Rights Movement, leads "Civil Rights South Bus Tours" to cities and historic sites involved in the movement.
"We are working to build the ARCI's membership," Formwalt said. "In 2009 we had just 80 active members. Last year, we tripled it to more than 250. So please come visit us and bring your family."