South Georgia natives recall MLK's time in Albany

South Georgia natives recall MLK's time in Albany
People stopped by the Albany Civil Rights Museum, looking at a table full of artifacts from when Dr. King was killed. (Source: WALB)
Frank Wilson is the Director of the Civil Rights Museum in Albany. (Source: WALB)
Frank Wilson is the Director of the Civil Rights Museum in Albany. (Source: WALB)
This is one of the original obituaries. (Source: WALB)
This is one of the original obituaries. (Source: WALB)
Rutha Mae Harris is one of the original Freedom Singers. (Source: WALB)
Rutha Mae Harris is one of the original Freedom Singers. (Source: WALB)

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Fifty years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, South Georgia natives are remembering his time in Albany.

"I'm sitting here listening, enjoying the moment, remembering the things I recall," said Tyler Harris, a curator. On Wednesday he sat in the museum, watching people and thinking about the movement.

He and others from different generations are too celebrating the civil rights movement and the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"He's a hero," said seven-year-old DJ, who was wearing a bright white shirt with King's face on it as he walked around the museum. "The people that arrested him didn't know about segregation that much.

Many recall what they were doing the day King was assassinated.

"On the day of his assassination I was a senior in college, doing student teaching," said Albany Civil Rights Museum Executive Director Frank Wilson.

In Albany, it's easy to find people who marched behind the drum major for justice.

"I was taking summer courses at Monroe High school and had the opportunity to participate in some of the marches," explained Wilson.

Wilson said he had been living in Moultrie. He remembers people flooding the city to shop because the Sheriff was one of few who wouldn't accept civil rights prisoners.

"As a result of that, African Americans here in Albany came to Moultrie to shop. They were boycotting the stores here in Albany," explained Wilson.

It was the summer of 1962 when Dr. King was asked to speak in Albany.

"Of course he came without knowing he was going to have to stay here, go to jail, but he did," explained Rutha Mae Harris, an Albany native and one of the original Freedom Singers.

Harris said she had been sheltered as a child. Her dad chose to hide her from the harsh realities outside her door.

"We couldn't go to the movies so I didn't know we had to go through a back alley," Harris explained.

She wasn't even allowed to use public restrooms because her dad told her to use the ones he worked so hard to have in her house.

But a spark ignited in her when Harris learned about what was happening in the country, the segregation of two groups because of their skin color.

"I said that I'm not going to let anybody fight for me. I'm going to fight for myself," said Harris.

It was during that time when Harris said she became a song leader. A folk singer who came to Albany approached a group of the singers and suggested they form a group to travel around and tell the story of the civil rights movement through song.

Harris traveled the country for nine months, over 50,000 miles, fighting for civil rights, using her special gift of song to send a message.

"Ain't going to let nobody turn me around," Harris sang then and still sings today. "I'm going to keep on walking, keep on talking, marching up to freedom land."

Harris still has a smile on her face when she sings the songs today, full of pride.

"The songs of the movement played a very vital role because they kept us from being afraid," explained Harris.

Although some say King's stop in Albany was failure, Harris and Wilson say Albany's movement taught King lessons that he would use to make Birmingham's movement a success.

"Dr. King coming to Albany helped him," explained Harris.

Still today, Freedom Fighters use the Civil Rights Institute, the history that Albany experienced, to enhance the minds of younger generations.

"If he didn't do that," explained DJ, referring to Dr. King, "then we would still be separate."

"I was blown away about the fact that he wanted to know, he wants to be here," said Wilson when he saw DJ. "We need to emulate that. Parents need to be talking to children."

Both Harris and Wilson say there is still a lot of work to be done in our country to fight discrimination in the world, but they plan to keep doing with they can to stand up for civil rights.

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