Freedom Singer marks importance of Albany Movement as Juneteenth approaches
ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - This weekend many people will be celebrating Juneteenth. It’s a day to commemorate the abolishment of slavery, but the fight for freedom continued for many years after June 19, 1865. Part of that fight was right here in Albany.
The Albany Movement started in 1961, a few years after the Civil Rights Movement started.
African-Americans began protesting for the right to vote, fair treatment, and integrated institutions among many other rights.
One person who played a role in the soul of the movement was Rutha Harris.
“I was 21 when the Albany Civil Rights movement began,” said Harris.
Before joining the movement, she said she wasn’t aware of the unfair treatment.
She reflected on the first time she was asked if she wanted to be free. It was in Albany in front of Shiloh Baptist Church.
″I said, ‘what you mean I wanna be free. I am free? Well, I thought I was free because my dad sheltered us from everything,” said Harris.
WALB asked her what it was like when she realized there was discrimination.
“Devastation. And I knew that I had to become a part of this. I wanted to make a change, and I didn’t want anybody to make that change for me. I wanted to make it for myself,” said Harris.
And she did.
She started helping with voter registration drives, marches, mass meetings and helped form the original Albany Freedom Singers. A group organized to help raise funds for the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee, also known as SNCC.
“We traveled 50,00 plus miles in nine months, covering and telling the story of the Civil Rights Movement through song,” said Harris.
She believes without music, there wouldn’t have been a movement, adding the songs kept protesters from being afraid.
“Say you’re walking in the march, and you see this policeman walking with this billy club and you know you might get hit, but you don’t know. That’s why we sang, ‘I ain’t going to let nobody turn me round, I ain’t going to let nobody turn me round, I’m going to keep walking keep on talking marching up to freedom land,” Harris said.
The Freedom Singers went to 46 different states, even singing at the March on Washington.
During her time helping with the movement, she was arrested several times.
“Anybody who was in the march, anybody in the Civil Rights Movement, you knew you might go to jail, you know that you might get hit, you know what you might get killed. Personally, I feel if you don’t have anything to die for, life is not worth living,” said Harris.
To her, freedom was worth dying for.
WALB News 10′s Molly Godley asked why Harris thought it took so long for Juneteenth to be recognized as a national holiday.
“I guess that’s cause freedom is a constant struggle,” she said.
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