The Revs. Charles Sherrod, left, and Henry Mathis spoke Monday at the Albany Civil Rights Institute on Whitney Avenue. The topic of their talk was the role of the church in the Albany civil rights movement beginning 50 years ago. The presentation was one of several during a weeklong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Albany Movement.
ALBANY, Ga. — A group of about 60 people met at the Albany Civil Rights Institute on Monday to hear the Revs. Charles Sherrod and Henry Mathis speak on the role of local churches in the Albany civil rights movement half a century ago. The presentation was one of a week of events commemorating the start of the Albany Movement, which celebrates its official 50th anniversary on Thursday.
Albany Movement 50th anniversary
These are events scheduled for this week as the Albany Civil Rights Institute celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Albany Movement. The programs each start at 7:30 p.m. at the museum, 326 Whitney Ave.
TUESDAY: Danny Lyon, “SNCC, Photography, and the Southwest Georgia Movement.” An exhibition of Lyon’s civil rights photographs opened Nov. 1 at ACRI.
WEDNESDAY: George Stoney and David Bagnall; premiere of “All My Babies Reunion” film.
THURSDAY: Dr. William G. Anderson, “Reflections on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Albany Movement, November 17, 1961.”
FRIDAY: Rutha Harris and the ACRI Freedom Singers, “Music and the
Southwest Georgia Movement.”
Sherrod spoke of the days when Albany African Americans gathered in churches as they worked to gain their rightful freedoms through the power of the vote.
Sherrod explained how representatives of the newly formed groups would peacefully approach white-owned businesses, such as supermarkets, and state their expectations for jobs and that black women be allowed to wear hats without first covering their heads with stocking caps, which was considered degrading.
“We told them we would leave their stores if this was not done, but sometimes store owners preferred to lose money, and some of of them closed down,” Sherrod said.
According to Sherrod, the church served primarily as a meeting place for the movement, though sometimes white people would drive by and take down license plate numbers to identify those inside. Some of those who were identified were fired from their jobs or threatened in other ways. Windshields were broken and tires were slashed, too, he said.
It was not a time for weakness, Sherrod said, but it was hard not to be afraid.
“There were times when my legs were shaking,” Sherrod said. “I had to pray real hard. There was a time when I had to stand before the high sheriff. When he would do what he had to do and smack me down, I would have to get up and say ‘I’m still a human being. I’m still a child of God.’ There were many dangers during those time.”
Mathis, who like Sherrod is a former Albany city commissioner, said that when Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus he was still “in his mother’s belly.”
“But even just six years later, whatever she was trying to do, it came out in me. That was during the real heat of the movement and I felt I needed to make a contribution. Dr. (wiliam G.) Anderson (the first president of the movement) delivered me and I’ve been a big part of the movement ever since.”
Mathis agreed that church was the only place that black people — especially African-American men — could meet and feel relatively safe. Every other place aroused suspicion of white people and law enforcement, Mathis said.
“The church provided a pivotal role,” Mathis said. “We could meet there and we could be preached to. Our spirits could be preached to. It gave us the courage to go out and face Jim Crow, and Jim Crow was worse than segregation. You know that.”