Returning to the Roots of Civil Rights Tour: Day 3

For previous posts in this series click here.

We began the day in Albany, GA and ended the day eating fried catfish in Montgomery, Alabama.  (More on that in the next post).

We spent most of the morning at the Albany Civil Rights Institute learning about how the Civil Rights Movement played out in this Georgia city.   African Americans in the city led the so-called “Albany Movement”–an attempt to desegregate public spaces in the city through nonviolent protests.  The Albany Movement was lead by William G. Anderson, a local medical doctor. Anderson had support from three outside activists from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference also got involved.  King arrived for his first of several of visits to Albany on December 14, 1961.  During one visit, evangelist Billy Graham came to Albany and bailed King out of jail.  (This was not mentioned in the exhibits at the Institute.  I learned about it here).

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Albany Civil Rights Institute, Albany, GA

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Freedom Riders bus inside the Albany Civil Rights Institute

The highlight of the day was our visit to the Old Mount Zion Baptist Church.  Old Mount Zion was one of two Baptist churches where King preached during his first visit to Albany (the other one was Shiloh Baptist Church, located directly across the street). Here we met Rutha Mae Harris, an Albany native and one of the original Freedom Singers.  In 1963 the Freedom Singers traveled over 50,000 miles to over forty states under the auspices of SNCC.  They performed at the March on Washington in August and appeared on stage with the likes of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Joan Baez.  Here are a couple of videos:

At 76-years old, Rutha’s voice seemed to be just as strong as it was in the videos posted above.  She taught us several songs, including “Which Side Are You On?, “Fighting for My Rights,” “The Ballad of Medgar Evers,” and “Dogs.”  When we finished singing she dubbed us all “official Freedom Singers!”

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Rutha Mae Harris greets us at the Old Mount Zion Baptist Church

Harris firmly believes that “without the songs of the Civil Rights movement, there would have been no Civil Rights movement.”  Harris was a lot less political than Juanita Jones Abernathy the day before, but she did suggest that the Black Lives Matter movement would have been more successful if it had music.

We stayed in Albany for a soul food lunch at Carter’s Grill and Restaurant and then boarded the bus for Montgomery.

The rain put a damper on some of our plans in Montgomery, but we did make quick stops at Holt Street Baptist Church (site of the first meeting of the Montgomery Improvement Association) and First Baptist Church (Ralph Abernathy‘s church during the Montgomery Bus Boycott).

We head to Selma tomorrow.  Stay tuned.