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March 1972: Students protest; porn case tried

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

The educational fabric in the city was unraveling in March 1972 as students and organizers took the streets in protest over perceptions of racism and bigotry at Westover High School.

Over the course of the month, hundreds of students, parents and community organizers marched downtown in protests aimed at forcing the Board of Education to fire the principal and to reverse its decision over a new superintendent.

Civil Rights era leaders Charles Sherrod and C.B. King met with Mayor Motie Wiggins to hash out a compromise. The representatives of the black students presented Wiggins and the Board of Education with a list of 13 demands, which included the termination of the principal at Westover High. While the board would eventually concede to a handful of the group's demands, the board refused to fire the principal. Before the month ended, 13 demonstrators would be arrested. The tensions would continue on into April.

March also saw the trials and conviction of an Albany theater-owner who was charged by Dougherty District Attorney Robert Reynolds with violating Georgia's newly minted obscenity law by showing the film "Carnal Knowledge" -- a controversial film of its time starring Ann Margaret and Jack Nicholson.

Initially charged were Whitfield Woodall and Billy Jenkins, the co-owners and operators of the Broad Avenue Cinema. Woodall was later cleared, but Jenkins would twice stand trial. During the first trial, jurors were walked to the theater. Reynolds showed them the film, which one juror said made her feel "uncomfortable." After roughly 15 hours of deliberations, jurors told Judge Asa Kelley that they were hopelessly deadlocked 11-1.

Within three days, Reynolds re-tried Jenkins, this time earning a conviction despite defense attorney Peter Zack Geer's rousing closing statement in which he reminded the jury that "you can't legislate morals."

"There are women right now walking down Pine Avenue bra-less and in hot pants, but that doesn't mean they should be locked up. It's none of my damn business," Geer told jurors.

Following the verdict, Geer, a former lieutenant governor, told reporters that he would appeal the decision, saying that "apparently the jury missed the point about freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment."

Elsewhere in Albany in March 1972:

-- "The Albany Marine Corps Depot of Supplies" celebrated its 20th anniversary. Commissioned March 1, 1952, the center was first conceived in 1950 with construction starting in 1951.

-- A handful of Albany residents were treated to a special "cruise" about the U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier USS Saratoga by way of the Albany Naval Air Station.

-- The city was locked in a fight with Georgia Power over annexation rights in a legislative battle that would ultimately help shape Georgia Power's territorial rules.

-- An RASC Vigilante crashed while attempting to land at Naval Air Station Albany. The only two people aboard, a pilot and a navigator, safely ejected before the crash.

-- The Dougherty County Commission voted to move forward with a partnership with the Georgia Department of Public Safety for the development and construction of Albany's State Patrol Post on U.S. highway 19 South. The cost for construction was estimated to be $149,000.

-- Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital reported that in February there had been 67 births, 100 deaths and 98 marriages.

-- On March 15, local state representatives and the Georgia House of Representatives passed a measure allowing Dougherty County and the city of Albany to create a study commission to consider consolidation of the two governments.

Contact government reporter J.D. Sumner at j.d.sumner@albanyherald.com.