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Much has changed in a half-century

Dr. William G. Anderson, the man who was elected to lead the Albany Movement 50 years ago, has a clear perspective on the results of that tense period of Albany and Southwest Georgia history.

“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.”

In 1961, African Americans in those and other leadership positions in Albany were unheard of. In fact, the idea was foreign to just about every community in the Deep South, where bus stations, public restrooms, doctors’ offices and even water fountains were separated according to race.

Anderson returned to Albany on Thursday for the 50th anniversary of his appointment as president of the Albany Movement at the place associated with its birth, Old Mount Zion Church, now the Albany Civil Rights Institute. It was something that he did not seek at first. In fact, Anderson said the fight for equal rights was started in Albany by the period’s younger generation — most of them students, including 40 who were expelled from what was then Albany State College as punishment for their involvement in protesting for their civil rights.

“They were doing it for me,” noted Anderson, a physician. He said he got uncomfortable watching events unfold from the sidelines. “I had to join.”

Last week, the Albany Civil Rights Institute conducted a week-long series of events examining different aspects of the Albany Movement, focusing on people like Anderson; the Rev. Charles Sherrod, a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee whose work was singled out by Anderson and who would later become one of the first African Americans to serve on the Albany City Commission; Danny Lyon, who photographically chronicles the struggle as it happened, and Rutha Harris and the Freedom Riders, whose voices bring chills to their audiences.

The importance of the work of these and others has not been lost on those who have followed and worked their ways into leadership positions that back then would have been impossible to attain.

While it is unfortunate that race continues to be a strong undercurrent in Albany these days, there is no doubt that the work of these brave freedom fighters a half-century ago was instrumental in effecting a great deal of progress over the past five decades. With the demands of daily life, it’s easy to overlook exactly how much things have changed. The 50th anniversary celebration of the Albany Movement was a needed reminder of how far Albany has come.