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50 years later, 'Oh Freedom' still rings

Dr. William G. Anderson the founding president of the Albany Movement for civil rights on Nov. 17, 1961, spoke at the Old Mt. Zion Church as part of the Albany Civil Rights Institute’s 50-year celebration Thursday night.

Dr. William G. Anderson the founding president of the Albany Movement for civil rights on Nov. 17, 1961, spoke at the Old Mt. Zion Church as part of the Albany Civil Rights Institute’s 50-year celebration Thursday night.

ALBANY -- Introduced as the man who gave birth to the Albany Movement for civil rights, Dr. William G. Anderson received a standing ovation Thursday evening in Old Mt. Olive Church, now the Albany Civil Rights Institute.

Not coincidentally, Mayor Willie Adams said, it was the same day the movement was launched in 1961 with Anderson's election as its first president.

"We are here to thank you and the people who worked with you," Adams said. "We welcome our own son back to Albany, Georgia."

Anderson stood at the podium under a poster showing how he stood with Dr. Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy and local leaders Wyatt Tee Walker and Ruby Hurley in the same church.

"As I have traveled around, people have asked me, 'What did you get out of the Albany Movement?'" Anderson said. "I came back here to Albany before and there was an African-American mayor, an African-American chief of police and African-American businesses. That is what I got."

Paying respect to those who had been in the movement with him, Anderson mentioned the Rev. Charles Sherrod, a Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee member in 1961 who later became an Albany city commissioner.

"Had it not been for Charles Sherrod and the SNCC members," Anderson said, "there would not have been an Albany Movement."

That movement became responsible for protests at white-only bus stations, lunch counters and other segregated public accommodations, such as libraries. The movement launched City Hall protests and voter registration drives.

The students started it, Anderson said, and as he practiced medicine, he became uncomfortable watching.

"They were doing it for me," Anderson said. "I had to join." He decided it was time for a meeting with SNCC and other organizations with older people and the Albany Movement was born.

It was a touching night for many in the audience, including mayoral candidate Dorothy Hubbard.

"This gives us a way to look back. Without the Albany Movement, I wouldn't have an opportunity to run for mayor," said Hubbard, who is in a Dec. 6 runoff election against B.J. Fletcher. "It is also a teaching opportunity for the younger people."

When Anderson unexpectedly called on Rutha Harris of the ACRI Freedom singers, she met the challenge by singing "Oh Freedom." She was hardly through the first line of the song when the audience joined in: "Oh Freedom, "Oh, Freedom! Oh, Freedom over me! Before I'll be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave ..."

The week of special events at the institute commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Albany Movement concludes this evening at 7:30 with the program "Music and the Southwest Georgia Movement." It will feature Harris and the ACRI Freedom Singers.