ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - February is Black History Month. What better time is there to reflect on how far we’ve come and look at how far as a community we still must go?
What better way to do that than through the eyes of someone who has lived through it all? The one and only Rutha Harris.
Harris reflected on her journey and the changes she said still need to be made.
“My name is Rutha Harris. I grew up in this house where I’m sitting. I was born in this house,” said to WALB during our interview with her. “My dad, who was a minister, my mom was a schoolteacher sheltered us from all the ills of segregation. He said ‘I bought a house for you to live in, and in this house is a kitchen, so you don’t need to go to restaurants. In this house, I bought you a television, so you don’t need to go to the movie theater.’”
The Albany Movement did not begin through the instigation of any outside persons of the city. It began as a deeply felt expression of the hunger for true freedom that came from the midst of people in the Good Life City.
“The Albany Civil Rights Movement began, and I started working in the Civil Rights Movement during voter registration,” Harris recalled. “And then, I would go to the mass meetings. Singing during the mass meetings, the original SNCC freedom singers were formed. We were organized for the purpose of raising funds for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.”
“We traveled 50,000 plus miles in nine months, covering 46 states. At that time, there were only 48 states. The reason we didn’t get to the 47 and 48th states is my body got tired.”
Said Harris: “I came back and enrolled at Albany State. In 1973, I started my first contract teaching. I taught for 30 years at Monroe High School, the school that I graduated from in 1958. After that, I started traveling, telling the story of the Civil Rights Movement through song, visiting colleges and universities.
Sentiments echoed by a younger generation, WALB had a unique opportunity to unite generations, sitting down with two students enrolled at Albany State University.
WALB shared their perspectives with Harris who said the youth of today must continue to push for change they want to see tomorrow.
WALB’s Kiera Hood asked Ashlyn Berry and Tavari Davis about the death of George Floyd.
Said Hood: “When you saw that, how did it make you feel?”
“When that video was released, there was just like a prevalent feeling of numbness because like this is not the first time that this has happened. It just seems like you know, you turn on the news and it’s like, ‘oh another one, you know.’ And that shouldn’t be that way. It feels like Black people have been pushed into like this survival mode where it’s like you take in these horrific events that are occurring to you and your people and you just swallow them and you figure out, ‘okay, how do I keep pushing on,’” said Berry.
“I felt like, here he is again, here we are again, where the whole country wants to come together, they want to speak on Black issues, but when it’s over, we go back to our same normal lives,” Davis said on Southwest Georgia doing enough after Floyd’s death.
“Oh so sad. I cried during that time,” Harris recalled after hearing of Floyd’s death. “‘You’ve got your knee on my neck! Why? I just said why.’ We can protest, we can march. The one thing that we can do is boycott. Take the money away. That’s the only way some people will listen.”
“It feels like the weight of the world is crashing in on you, you know, and it’s like what can I as a person do? You know, it makes me feel bad, but it’s like that is a driving force onward. I can’t allow this to weigh heavily on me. I’ve got to figure out how to push forward to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Berry said. “We always talk about the push for equality. It’s something that’s got to evolve constantly. It’s got to change and the people around it need to change with it too.”
“It felt like we did this big protest and I absolutely I loved it, but nothing changed,” said Davis. “We did a protest, we gathered, we talked, but the tone was still tone-deaf. You didn’t listen, you only heard us.”
Harris said the next big step is legislation. She wants to see more accountability for law enforcement officers and anyone else who targets others based off the color of their skin.