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Eyes on the Prize
The Story of the Movement — 26 Events

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The Limits of Non-Violence

1962

"We learned... that you must pinpoint your targets so that you do not dilute the strength of your attack."
—Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, SCLC leader

Related Links:

  • Learn more about civil rights actions in Albany.
  • Read a reflection by Albany native Bernice Johnson Reagon on music in the movement.
  • Find out about SNCC leader Charles Sherrod, who went to Albany in the early 1960s and stayed to work for justice.

In Albany, Georgia, the movement experiences what some will call its greatest defeat, though black citizens in Albany will not view it that way. Young organizers from SNCC arrive in 1961 to help black citizens combat segregation. Dr. William Anderson, president of the umbrella Albany Movement that coordinates protests, calls in Rev. Martin Luther King by the end of the year, after over 500 activists have been jailed and the Albany movement needs support.

Although the black community generates tremendous energy from mass meetings and singing, and protests continue, conflicts between SNCC and King's SCLC emerge over leadership issues. Albany police chief Laurie Pritchett has studied the tactics of nonviolence, and plans to disperse the protests' impact. He avoids confronting demonstrators or creating scenes of police brutality, especially while the press is around. He farms out the arrested protesters to prisons within 60 miles of Albany, keeping his jail free. And he arranges for someone to pay King's and Rev. Ralph Abernathy's bail so the leaders are not a magnet for unwelcome attention.

In July 1962, a federal judge issues a restraining order against the protesters. Occupied with foreign affairs, President John F. Kennedy remains distant. Albany remains segregated in August when King and the SCLC leave town. But the activists will carry important lessons into their next campaign, and Albany's black community presses on to combat segregation.

Context

Other Events: 1962

The Cuban Missile Crisis takes the United States and Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war.

Gregory Peck wins the Best Actor Oscar for "To Kill a Mockingbird." The first James Bond film ("Dr. No") opens. Marilyn Monroe dies of a drug overdose.

Walter Cronkite becomes anchor of the CBS Evening News.

American James Watson shares the Nobel Prize in medicine with British researchers Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins for their work on DNA.

Astronaut John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the earth, witnessing four sunsets in a single day.

Rachel Carson's influential book Silent Spring warns about the human consequences of environmental pollution, particularly the widespread use of insecticides.

Press

The Louisville Courier Journal, July 16, 1962

Editorial: Another Round in a Wasteful Fight

The latest racial incident in Albany, Georgia, is depressing, not because of violence, for there was none, but because it is but another dreary round in a fight so wasteful of human energy. The eventual outcome of the struggle is no longer in doubt. Segregation is doomed, and even the extreme segregationists know they are only engaged in a holding action...

The New York Times, July 19, 1962

Negroes Rally in Albany, Ga.; 80 Driven From a Public Pool
Demonstrations Held at 5 Drug Stores and Bus Terminal as Part of a Campaign for the Desegregation of Facilities

..."Today is another part of the build-up to desegregate and then to integrate the city," Mr. [Joseph Charles] Jones [a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] told an audience of teen-age boys and girls at the Mount Zion Baptist Church. He said they must be dignified while taking part in the demonstrations, which he referred to as "operation upset" and "guerrilla and minute-men tactics."...

...The demonstrators then fanned out in groups of six and eight to stage sit-ins at lunch counters in the heart of the city and in a suburban shopping center.

In every case, they were refused service.

The demonstrators returned to Mount Zion Church and then left for Tift Park. They strolled through the zoo, played on the swings and sat on the benches without interference from the police, who said that Negroes were free to use most park facilities.

But when a group of ten girls clutching swim suits and towels appeared at the locker window of the swimming pool bathhouse, a white youth inside turned his back on them and walked away.

As a small crowd of whites began gathering at the bath house, Capt. J. Ed Friend, chief of detectives, approached the Negroes and ordered them to leave the park.

"You people will have to leave the park now or you're under arrest," he said sternly. "We don't want any violence here. Let's go."

Chief [of Police Laurie] Pritchett said the Negroes had been ordered out of the park to prevent trouble. "They did not go there to use the park facilities but only to create a disturbance," he said.

The Birmingham Post-Herald, July 27, 1962

Negroes Plan Next Move
Self-Imposed Day of Penance Ends

Albany, Ga. -- Negro leaders planned their next integration moves behind closed doors today in the face of a new warning from Gov. Ernest Vandiver that further violence would bring state action.

...Negroes ended at noon a self-imposed day of penance because of rock throwing by some members of their race after a Tuesday night march...

...As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. huddled with other integration leaders, the governor warned from Atlanta that he would remove King and what he termed other agitators from Albany if violence flares again.

"The people of Georgia are sick and tired of demonstrations, violation of our laws and particularly violence," the governor said. "The agitators are receiving fair warning. The city will be placed under martial law if necessary."...

The New York Times, August 3, 1962

Editorial: Albany, Ga.

...One of the sad facts in this situation is that while there are more than 20,000 Negroes in Albany's 58,000 population, the Negroes obviously have had little to say about the government and policing of the city. History and custom had already made the situation a racial one before Dr. King moved in with his doctrine of peaceful protest.

The "outside agitator" argument is the same that employers used to voice years ago to prevent the spread of unions... But the President [John F. Kennedy] has implicitly suggested, as has Dr. King, a sensible way out: that is to say, a conference between the City Commission and a duly appointed committee of Albany Negroes. Some concessions will have to be made in the use of public facilities regardless of race. The customs of the Eighteen Sixties cannot be brought back or retained in the year 1962.

The Birmingham Post-Herald, August 4, 1962

Editorial: Albany Bears Up Well

Our sympathy goes out to the people of Albany, over their difficulty. The patient restraint they have exhibited, the good judgment shown by their officials and especially the manner in which Albany's chief of police has enforced the law and maintained order has won the admiration of countless thousands.

There is little a community can do to defend itself before critics and detractors on the outside when it is elected as the whipping boy in a propaganda campaign such as plagues Albany.

First it was Little Rock, then Montgomery, Jackson and New Orleans. For a brief time the spotlight was on Birmingham. So we can well understand what the people of Albany are going through.

We hope, as we know they do, they can keep the situation in hand until the country tires of the Albany story and the pressure shifts to a new locale.

Music

Oh Pritchett, Oh Kelley
Songwriter: Music traditional ("Oh Mary, Oh Martha"), words by Bertha Gober and Janie Culbreath
Performed by: Bertha Gober, Rutha Harris, and Charles Sherrod
Listen to the Music

Officials in Albany had studied and tried to defuse the activists' tactics: when they jailed protesters they would tell them, "I don't want no [expletive] singing and no [expletive] praying." But the singing was important to maintaining morale and providing leaders within the group, like the young Bernice Johnson (Reagon).

Jailed protesters in Albany sang out the names of their captors. "Oh Prichett, Oh Kelley," an adaptation of a well-known spiritual, demanded that the police chief, Laurie Prichett, and the mayor, Asa Kelley, "open this cell." Reagon points out that, ordinarily, for a black person to call out a white person in this manner would be to invite hanging. "But this time, with a song, there was nothing they could do to block what we were saying. Not only did you call their names and say what you wanted to say but they could not stop your sound. Singing is different than talking."

The Albany movement led to an invigorated musical culture and touring groups like the SNCC Freedom Singers, who raised money and attention for the movement.

For more on music and the movement, read comments by Bernice Johnson Reagon.

Music courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, www.si.edu/ folkways.

Video

The Limits of Non-Violence
Duration: 2:20 min
Watch the Video

The first clip is newsreel narration of the Albany protests while footage shows demonstrators praying and then being arrested.

The second is footage of Albany Movement leader W. G. Anderson describing the movement's aims and encouraging an audience of protesters. His listeners applaud and sing "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round," expressing their tenacity and unity.

In Albany, music and singing were central elements of the movement. Soon afterwards, SNCC and other groups sponsored singing groups that toured the North and South to raise funds and awareness for the civil rights campaign.

Footage provided by BBC MOTION GALLERY.

Select an image to open the gallery.

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