On November 17, 1961—51 years ago today—representatives from various civil rights organizations including the NAACP and SNCC, as well as individual residents frustrated by segregation, came together in Georgia to form the Albany Movement—a coalition that would spend the next year fighting for integration.
Two weeks earlier, the Interstate Commerce Commission’s official ban of interstate bus segregation had gone into effect; on instruction from SNCC leaders, nine students from Albany State College had conducted a sit-in to test these policies. These students’ actions, as well as the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott several years earlier, helped inspire the formation of the Albany Movement.
Hoping to achieve the desegregation of all facilities throughout Albany, Georgia, activists utilized nonviolent mass demonstrations, sit-ins, litigation, and other tactics, all the while fighting for the release of individuals jailed in desegregation protests and for the establishment of a biracial committee to further the desegregation movement. These protesters lived under the constant threat of arrest; more than 500 were jailed in the first couple of weeks, and that number quickly reached 1,000.
Once Martin Luther King, Jr., became involved with the coalition, the Movement predictably gained national attention. After King was arrested on December 16, city officials and protesters reached a truce. However, the peace did not last, and demonstrations and arrests both increased.
Unfortunately, despite its success in mobilizing mass nonviolent protests, the Movement was not concretely successful at eliminating segregation policies. Albany’s police chief, Laurie Pritchett, was determined to block the movement’s progress, and his tactics were quite effective. That said, as King explained, civil rights leaders were able to learn from the Albany Movement, paving the way for future struggles, such as the Birmingham Campaign of 1963. And of course, local activism continued even after the Albany Movement itself wound down, with segregation laws ending in the spring of 1963.
To learn more about the Albany Movement, check out this page from Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, this page from the New Georgia Encyclopedia, this page from the University of Georgia, and this page from PBS.
Archival resources can be found in the Civil Rights Digital Library. Information on the Albany Movement is also included in Swarthmore College’s Global Nonviolent Action Database.
To learn more about Charles Sherrod, one SNCC activist who helped start the campaign and later became a city commissioner, check out this article.
To learn more about the Interstate Commerce Commission’s segregation ban, check out this page from the Federal Highway Administration and this blog post. To read the regulations, click here.
To learn more about SNCC, check out this blog post.