Posts tagged ‘Albany Georgia’

Freedom Singers at the White House

bernicewhhouse

Need an alternative to football after your turkey dinner? Check out this video. Especially important for the young folk among you…

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50 Years After the Albany Movement

Albany Civil Rights Institute,  June 2011 (ACRI)     Photo: A.G. Jones

While in Albany researching the novel in June 2011, I snapped the picture above during the opening reception of the SNCC 50th Anniversary of the Albany Movement. The Movement was founded on November 17, 196, so ACRI has had many festivities throughout 2011 to celebrate.

Poor People’s Campaign ~ Lessons from the Streets of 1968

My family was living on Hazard Drive in Albany, Georgia when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968—my late mother’s 42nd birthday.  I was two months shy of 14 and felt doubly sad—that King’s life had been snuffed out and my mother would cry for him on her birthday.

Five weeks later, on May 12th, approximately 50,000 protestors gathered on The National Mall and heard Rev. Ralph Abernathy say these words ~

“We come with an appeal to open the doors of America to the almost 50 million Americans who have not been given a fair share of America’s wealth and opportunity, and we will stay until we get it.”

This peaceful gathering of poor people from the four corners of the country—all races and walks of life—was called The Poor People’s Campaign and demanded that Lyndon Johnson and Congress  provide jobs, healthcare and decent homes for the 13% of Americans living below the poverty line. They weren’t alone in this act of civil disobedience in 1968, there was continual student unrest across the globe—in New York City, Paris, Mexico, Poland, Egypt, West Germany, and Czechoslovakia.

A week after the march, tents and shacks went up on the Mall and became known as Resurrection City— a temporary city of 7,000 who were still traumatized by King’s assassination, yet carrying on with his hope for America. Photographer Jill Freedman quit her job and lived in Resurrection City. She and her pictures have survived to tell the story. In the the video above Chuck Farris artfully tells a version of that story.

The massive poor people’s march would be Dr. King’s final project, reflecting his shift in focus away from civil rights, as purely a race issue, toward human rights, a matter of class. His wife, Coretta Scott King, with the help of many black ministers—Abernathy and Rev. Jessie Jackson among them—carried through with the plan.

After seven weeks of unrelenting rain—the sky itself was despondent—the protestors went home. No doubt Jessie’s words echoed in their minds and hearts: “I am. Somebody…I may not have a job, but I am somebody.”

If it happened today—over 43 years later—Resurrection City could just as easily be called Occupy The Mall.

The First Bite

A weekday in Harlem, Albany, GA, circa 1960s 

America has a multitude of best-kept secrets. The Albany Georgia Civil Rights Movement  is one of them. It started in the fall of 1961. I was seven years old, and my late sister, Betty, was just shy of twelve.To my knowledge our late parents—like most of the more than 20,000 blacks in Albany at the time—were not active in the Movement. Quite the contrary, they sheltered us from it, for obvious reasons: extreme southern white bigotry was nothing to mess with. Yet that is exactly what a few brave souls chose to do, mess with the racial status quo in order to force change. You will meet many of those heroes in future posts.

I have many vivid memories of my parallel life growing up on Hazard Drive while this crucial part of American history unfolded around me. These memories were the bud for my work-in-progress novel, PEACH SEED MONKEY, where I have placed a host of fictional characters inside the very real present-day Albany, with flashbacks to the highly charged 1960s.

I invite you to visit here often (and subscribe!)  to learn how important the Albany Movement was ~ and still is ~ as an instrument of change and a model for the Women’s Movement, Vietnam protests and subsequent non-violent struggles for human rights throughout the world. Although the Movement is crucial to this story, PEACH SEED MONKEY is a work of fiction and will set out to do what novels do best ~ present the author’s exploration of a certain truth.

Leave comments, join the conversation as I’ll be sharing snippets from my process and travels—both mythic and actual—as they pertain to and inform the story; sometimes going back to 1960s Albany and my childhood house on Hazard (now a parking lot, for real); sometimes looking around my present-day life in northern California and even projecting ahead to the world our teenage daughter is headed for. I will let you in on why this is a story I am powerless to resist.

Growing up on Hazard Drive

View from porch of 325 Hazard Drive: Background ~ Gibson Hall, Albany State College Circa 1960

Our house was #325 Hazard Drive, one door down from Hazard Laboratory School in Albany, Georgia. During the late 50s and into the 60s when I was growing up there, Hazard Drive was a dichotomous slice of black life, one of the east side communities closest to the Flint River. On the north end of the street both sides were lined with wooden houses, mostly rentals, where working folk raised their families, rented rooms to the college students and mostly kept their noses out of the business of struggling for racial justice. On the south end of the street stood Albany State College (ASC), a future lightening rod for the Albany Civil Rights Movement—where internal unrest was already brewing as students members of the NAACP Youth Council stood up against authorities and racism, demanding changes that were not being met by local law enforcement nor the ASC administration.

Enter Charles Sherrod and Cordell Reagon and Charles Jones; at the time all twenty-something field secretaries for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC (pronounced “snick”), a one-year old civil rights organization established on the Shaw University Campus in Raleigh, North Carolina; born out of student-led lunch counter sit-ins. Using youth-led, nonviolent, direct-action tactics, SNCC focused heavily on voter registration, having chosen to work in southwest Georgia because the need was great based on the large numbers of disfranchised blacks not exercising their right to vote. Seems only natural for SNCC to join forces and further mobilize ASC student energy to help accomplish their shared goals, for SNCC knew that the only way to achieve racial equality was to get black voices heard through the polls.

As all of this progressed outside our home, within the government grey walls of 325 Hazard, the Joneses mirrored the polarity of the greater community in our own way. My late sister, Dr. Betty Jean Jones, turned twelve on December 11, 1961. She very much wanted to work in the Movement. I, on the other hand—being only seven—had no clue because our parents sheltered us from the struggle.

That fall I was blissfully starting second grade in Mrs. Pearl Sanders class at Hazard, while Betty, taking the bus to Carver Jr. High across town, wanted to participate in the marches, sit-ins and non-violent protests; to go to jail with others who put their lives on the line. Our parents forbade it. Unlike many other black tweens and teens who joined the Movement, Betty was not one to defy her parents, even though she harbored regrets. How I wish I could talk to her about that now. Betty passed away in January, 1997 in a plane crash at the age of 47.  Would that I could find out what motivated her to want to work in the Movement, and how she processed Silas and Irene Jones’ dominion over her fledgling activism.

When I went back home this past June for the 50th Anniversary of the Albany Movement, I met face-to-face with many who worked in the Movement, and heard first hand many stories of courage and diligence. This left me feeling troubled that my parents chose not to involve our family in that important American event. Later, I shared this with Charles Jones ( no direct relations) and he said, “Sister Jones, they were sheltering you, they wanted to ensure that you would make it to this moment.”  Thanks, Brother Charles, for that insight. I see clearly now that my family’s work is in this story, waiting to go out into the world. This is our contribution.

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