By Guest Blogger
Peter de Lissovoy

I met Peter in Albany on research trip, June 2011, during the 50th Anniversary of the Albany Civil Right’s Movement. He worked with SNCC in Albany during the 60s and graciously agreed to write this guest post:

Well I wasn’t much of a pool player, but the poolroom was an institution. Those old beer ads and cigar ads everywhere were so ornate with royal flourishes it gave all the windows a regal, cathedral-like look.

Trent, outside Gay’s Poolroom
Harlem, Albany, GA circa 1960s

Photo by Danny Lyon

Inside, the old benches were raised high all along the walls and when you hoisted up there you had a great view of the action. Everybody ate roasted peanuts, which were rarely swept up, so the floor was carpeted shells, crunching under your feet thick as sawdust. There were only three tables, and  one old guy (called the “house man”) whose job it was to rack the balls for, well not quite everybody, but when there was a serious game going on. “Rack ’em, house!” came the cry.

Peter (background) and the late Randy Battle, Gay’s Poolroom,
circa 1960s, Photo by Danny Lyon

I always felt safe and welcome in the pool room. The guy who ran it was Richard “Dick” Gay Junior, it was the father’s business, but the young guy ran it and he was a cheerful, businesslike and together guy.

The night that Johnson signed the Civil Rights Law and the SNCC kids were going out everywhere and testing it out, of all things a gang of white pool players showed up at Dick Gay’s poolroom—I mean the white pool players were taking advantage of the law and testing it out! everybody was amazed—and the word went out. A whole lot of serious games went on all night with a lot of money made and lost.

Last year at the 50th SNCC Anniversary in Albany State University’s Hyper Gym, ASU professor,  Dr. Raquel Henry, put out photos of the students who were expelled from then Albany State College for participating in the Movement, and there among them was Dick Gay Jr. I had no idea of that whatsoever back in the 60s as he never mentioned it.

A weekday in Harlem, Albany, GA, circa 1960s
Dick Gay’s Poolroom is on far corner: S. Jackson & W. Highland, now Harlem Barbershop.

By the way, there is some great video footage of Dr. King and Dr. Abernathy in this very poolroom on the eve of the massive demonstrations that broke things open in Albany, GA, in 1962, explaining to the denizens therein—cue sticks in hand—the ideas of nonviolence and the importance of the demonstrations.  I didn’t know this in spring of 1963 when I showed up in Albany, that Dr. King had stood right there by the pool tables in July, 1962. The poolroom guys were not necessarily gung-ho civil rights workers, and on more than one occasion one of them pleaded with me to tell the voter registration workers to “leave them alone.”

Somebody later said to me that Dr. King’s having prepared the ground for the big marches in Dick Gay’s poolroom, among other venues around town, might have been why I was always accepted in my days—or rather, months and years—hanging around the poolroom. But I now realize it must have been partly because of Dick Gay Jr.’s having been one of the original expelled students, who was either too modest about his bravery in the very first marches to have ever mentioned it to me, or who considered it all a given, a fact to be just assumed and not worth remarking on, that he had been in on it at the beginning.