ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The Albany Civil Rights Movement started in early 1961.
Black citizens were not allowed to vote, enter the bus station, library or the city swimming pool with whites.
Young people started demanding change and Albany black business leaders joined them.
Their cries for equality gained international attention in the next two years.
Against heavy odds, their goals finally became law.
It was a time when ordinary men and women stood tall, and today are remembered as heroes who brought about a better Albany and America.
WALB talked with two of those men who lived it — Dr. William Anderson, president of the Albany Movement and Rev. Andrew Young, who was at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s side during his role in Albany.
Now at 91-years-old and living outside Detroit, Michigan, Anderson remembers 1961, when members of SNCC, or Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, came to South Georgia and organized voter registration rallies.
Albany professionals joined with national organizations and started meeting.
Church rallies happened nightly. Marches began and hundreds were arrested.
“We the Albany Movement now, a neutral name, we became the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement in the nation, and people came from literally all over the country and even from some foreign countries,” Anderson recalled.
Anderson called on the close friend of his wife’s family, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak.
On December 15, 1961, King came to Albany, along with Rev. Andrew Young, Dr. Ralph Abernathy and Rev. Wyatt Walker.
They were in for a surprise.
Young said after Dr. King’s speech, the Albany Movement could not be stopped.
“People all out in the street, and Dr. Anderson got what we call ‘Freedom High,’ and he said we going to jail," Young said. "Who all is going to jail with Martin Luther King. And he said ‘wait a minute Andy, we didn’t, I’m not ready.’ But the people started screaming and he was sorta trapped into demonstrating.”
On Dec. 16, King led what became known as the “Freedom Walk” in downtown Albany and hundreds were arrested for protesting for voting rights and equality.
After an agreement was reached with Albany’s mayor and the city commission to talk, King was released from jail. The commission reneged on the agreement at the time.
Young said the Albany Movement was the learning movement to continue Dr. King’s dream.
Said Anderson: “It was concluded by the press that Martin Luther King was a failure in Albany, but what they don’t know is, Albany was never the same again after that.”
In the coming years, all the goals the Albany Movement asked for — voting rights for blacks, black law enforcement and city employees, desegregated public facilities and schools — came to be.
Young said King often referred to the lessons learned in Albany were used in Birmingham and Selma as the Civil Rights Movement carried on nationally.