ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The soul and spirit of Southwest Georgia’s role in the Civil Rights Movement can best be encapsulated through song.
Albany native Rutha Harris, one of the original Freedom Singers, recalled being one of the original singers who keeps the music alive today.
The melodious sound of her voice is one that fills a room, stops a crowd and has even changed lives.
Harris, 78, reflects on her days with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, commonly referred to as SNCC.
“I was approached by either Charles Sherrod or Cordell Reagon asking if I wanted to be free," Harris recalled. "I said ‘what do you mean if I want to be free? I am free.’”
Harris had just completed her freshman year of college in the summer of the early 60s when she began to get involved in the Civil Rights Movement — not realizing just how sheltered her father kept her and her siblings away from segregation.
“We couldn’t go to the movies because he said ’I bought you a television.' We couldn’t go to a hotel because he said ‘I built this house for you,’” Harris said.
After joining the Freedom Singers, she saw her rights and the rights of all blacks inhibited.
Little did Harris know becoming a founding member of the group would change her life forever.
“This group traveled 50,000 plus miles in nine months, covering 46 states," Harris recalled. "At that time there were only 48 states.”
The songs empowered the singers to not feel afraid of being hit by the Billy club or of dog attacks.
The movement changed Harris’ life, and in turn, she is changing the lives of others.
The Freedom Singers’ legacy lives on.
The second Saturday of each month, Harris still sings with a group at the Albany Civil Rights Institute to teach people about the Freedom Singers.