ALBANY— Representatives of the Albany-Dougherty Historic Preservation Commission, the Georgia Historical Society and members of the Albany Civil Rights Institute gathered downtown Wednesday for the official dedication of a historical marker celebrating “Freedom Alley.”
Around 100 people came to listen to speakers commemorate the dedication and hear the stories of individuals who participated in the Albany Movement.
Considered by some a failure, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. took the lessons he learned while assisting Albany’s fight for equality with him to his fight in Birmingham, Ala., and other locations across the nation.
Due to African-American voter registration efforts that were a major part of the movement, it was only two months after King left Albany that Thomas Chatmon was able to secure enough votes in a City Commission election that the city needed a runoff. Where history is keen to remember the flash of its defining moments, Albany’s place within history was like a locomotive — slow, strong and ready to bear the brunt of the oppressive forces that sought to prevent all men and women the same privilege of freedom.
The historical marker was erected in Albany to remind people of the city of the price Albany’s citizens paid to be at the forefront of desegregation efforts across America. The “Freedom Alley and City Hall” marker is on display in front of the Government Center in downtown Albany. The location was a key point to the Albany movement because it was at this place that hundreds of civil rights protesters were held by police to be distributed to neighboring county jails.
Among the protesters jailed during the Albany Movement was King himself.
The Rev. Henry Mathis offered an anecdotal recollection of his time in the Albany Movement. He spoke about how his mother packed a stocking full of soda crackers with peanut butter for him before he went out to protest knowing well how he would be treated once he was arrested.
“My mother said, ‘Boy, if you get arrested, all you need is three things: water, air and bread,’ but she said I’m going to add a little peanut butter with it,” Mathis said of embarking on his first youth march. “So I had peanut butter crackers in my belt, hosiery tied around my waist, but that day they did not arrest me.”
Mathis spoke passionately about how the African-American fight for equality had the same spirit the founding fathers of America did, but those founding fathers did not include the African-American community in their fight for freedom. That war for independence would not be won until 200 years later.
Freedom was a constant theme in Wednesday’s dedication ceremony.
“We will not be a slave,” Mathis said was the slogan civil rights protesters and activists used to stay strong in the face of imprisonment and worse.
Connie Leggett sang “Oh Freedom!” in honor of the the Freedom Alley and City Hall marker. The Freedom Singers, who deliver a musical and oral history of the Albany Movement every month at the Albany Civil Rights Institute, performed for the audience.
Greg Fullerton, chairman of the Albany-Dougherty Historic Preservation Commission, thanked everyone for coming to an event he called “a very meaningful part of our city’s history.” He recognized the efforts of the commission, the Director of City Planning and Development, Paul Forgey, ACRI and city officials in getting the historical marker placed in Albany. He spoke about how the marker will be a new reason for people to come visit Albany to see the city’s part in the civil rights movement in America.
Elyse Butler of the Georgia Historical Society unveiled the marker alongside Mathis.
Kenneth Cutts, chairman of the Albany Civil Rights Institute, gave closing remarks. Cutts thanked “all of those who came to make this project a reality,” the Dougherty County Commission, the City Commission, the Historical Society, the Albany Dougherty Historic Preservation Commission and the Historic Marker Dedication Committee.
“The Albany Movement is sometimes not given its due in the role that it played in the civil rights movement,” Cutts said in his closing words. “But I submit to you today, that had it not been for the Albany Civil Rights Movement, the Albany Movement, and the lessons learned during that movement, there may not have been been a Civil Rights Act of 1964. There may not have been a Voting Rights Act of 1965. There may not have been a Fair Housing Act of 1968, because Dr. King used the lessons that he learned here to go on to Birmingham, to go on to Selma. As a result, that’s what we have.”
He said the movement was about justice, equality and making sure that none of the citizens of this country were treated like second-class citizens.
Now, the marker stands on Pine Avenue to remind all of the citizens of Albany exactly what that movement meant and still means to this day.