Local historian explains Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and impact in 2023
ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - In remembrance of Martin Luther King Day, WALB News 10′s Madison Foglio sat down with a local Civil Rights historian who spoke about the achievements of Dr. King, his legacy and the state of race relations in America in 2023.
So I am fairly new to Albany. And coming down here, I didn’t have an appreciation for the fact that the Civil Rights Movement practically started here. And I would like for you to describe in your own words, why you think Martin Luther King came here?
“Well, first of all, let me just say that it is time that all they get it’s just desert in the in the Civil Rights narrative. The criterion club, among others in Albany, had begun to address some of the grievances against the city. We had the movement started long before Martin Luther King came to Albany,” historian and former Albany Civil Rights Museum director, W. Frank Wilson said. “The one thing that is often lost when talking about the Albany Movement is the fact that Martin Luther King did not start a little bit of movement. What Martin Luther King did, he brought the cameras, he brought the newspapers to Albany, Georgia, the citizens have all been had already started protesting. And the leader at that time of the Albany Movement, Dr. William Anderson, was a friend with Martin Luther King and invited him here because the movement had gotten overwhelmed. The leaders because people were being arrested and they did not have any recourse. King came here to do one thing, give a speech at Shiloh Baptist Church. Well, he wound up that same night coming across the street in the mind’s eye and give it a second speech, then going back over across the street, given a third speech the same night, and the following day, he did lead a protest into Albany, Georgia, downtown Albany where he was arrested. But to answer your question, Albany, Georgia was the epicenter for civil rights in the early 60s.”
So fascinating. I love that I’m kind of a little bit of this history geek myself. So hearing all of this, it’s just fascinating that we’re living in a place where history, we’re living in present history. And we’re also living in a place where history is always evolving.
“Still, it’s still evolving. Yes,” Wilson said.
Absolutely. So with it being Martin Luther King Day, what would you say are some of the key takeaways of him being from his coming here?
“Well, first of all, in all been is significant, that that among all the places in the state of Georgia that he found all venues worthy of his coming to bring his celebrity to the city,” Wilson said. “But more importantly, it the other takeaway is that we have to use his model used the things that he stood for, to celebrate this day. Now, there are a lot of folks wanting to call the Martin Luther King Day a day of service and, and do some other kinds of things. But Martin Luther King Day ought to be celebrated. The things that he accomplished, the things that he stood for, the kinds of things that he gave his life for. You see, people often talk about his speech, I have a dream. But another quotation that is often overlooked, that he said is that the two dangers that our society is sincere ignorance and crunches and stupidity, and cause a consequent of what we see sometimes now is that people are taking what he has a dream, and make it an ugly nightmare. So Martin Luther King Day is a great day, to keep us reminded that we cannot remain silent about things that are important. He was never solid. As matter of fact, up to his dying breath. He was very vocal when, when the night before he was killed in Memphis, Tennessee, he was still steadily advocating for the dignity of all people. And that’s what we need to be doing on Martin Luther King Day. I mean, I’m all for keeping our community beautified and trashed your job, but not on Martin Luther King Day. That’s not a day off. That’s a day on. And we need to be on point, messaging, all of the things that he’s not only stood for but that for.”
That’s a very, very fascinating point. I’m going to kind of tally off of that really quick and talk about the current state of race relations today here in south Georgia, specifically Albany here. Would you say the result from your perspective? How would you say racial tensions are?
“Let me ask that in two ways. There’s a crisis and all being I would not want to be in a better place. I’ve never seen a better cooperation with Black White, young, old, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, gentile, all of the things that Martin stood for, I have never seen a community rally around each other,” Wilson said. “When there is a crisis, sometimes I almost wish that we stayed in crisis mode just to have that level of harmony. But that being said, there still there is I think race relations and all being is a work in progress. As long as you have a group of people who feel that they are superior to another, you’re going to have a problem. And as long as you have a group of people who allow folk to let them think they’re superior, you’re going to have a problem. So, so I think that to answer your question on race relations, in all beds evolving, is not ideal. It’s not what it was, is not where it could be. But I think that you have we have wonderful opportunities to improve. And we do I see little, little segments of our community where things are happening. You know, let me do a shameless plug. In February, I usually do a black history concert at the CID auditorium. We feature all the choirs in our local community, public and private schools. And we have other community groups come in. That has been one of the things that I’ve seen people come in, regardless of race, we used to have the boy grant dinner that brought in people from all races, Albany State is beginning to attract folk from all races. So I think that it’s been a slow grind, changes, never changes, never easy. Getting accepting other folks, and that’s where we are, I think for too long, Black folk’ were tolerated. Slowly, I think they were beginning to gain acceptance. And there’s a there’s a different mindset when you are accepted. And when you’re tolerated. So So to answer your question, I think racial relations is a work in progress.”
How do you think Dr. King would view it?
“I think he was at the same thing because he even recognized that this would not be a quick fix,” Wilson said. You cannot take a history that was one-sided and change it overnight. It has to be a slow grind. And you find that each generation, each generation becomes a little bit better at it. You know, one of my youngest sons, and I had this conversation one day, and I shared with him. My first time in the classroom with white folk I was teaching. He started school with them. So we had our acceptance, our integration with with Whites came at a totally different level. I mean, I was a grown man, he started as a child. So his relationships with white guys is a lot different than mine. I have some White guys that I consider as friends. You know, but what I’m saying is that it’s a slow grind. It’s not it’s not a quick fix. But I think not the King was says that we’ve come a long way. We’ve got a long way to go.
Absolutely. And I want us not switch gears here but kind of tailor over to the Albany movement debate. There’s been debate from what I’ve gathered, I want you to answer this question. What’s your response to people debating that the Albany movement is a failure?
“I laugh at it, because for who call all the movement failure, obviously didn’t have appreciate where all bidding was in 1960,” Wilson said. “And where all Ben is in 2023? All you have to do is just kind of look at the landscape, politically, socially. And in some cases, we still the debate is still out there economically, but definitely politically, socially and in our educational system. Albany has come a long way that we’re no black elected officials. At that time. We have black elected officials all over the mat. We just celebrated the swearing in a black chairman of our door to kind of commission. We’ve had two black mayors. We’ve had three or four, maybe five black chiefs, the police and fire chiefs, superintendents of education, none of these, the thought of any of those things happening in 1960 would have been laughable. So to say that it was a failure, no, to have black businesses downtown Albany. That was that was unthinkable. So no, it was not a failure. Now, should there be some things that would be more accelerated than they are? Yes. But failure would not be failure would not be the labor I would get. I would just say slow progress, but not feel good by any means. "
That’s a great answer, sir. What would you say? Albany remembers MLK by and how does MLK remember opening?
“I would think well, first of all, there’s a lasting memorial that this building we have right here, the Civil Rights Institute, Shiloh Baptist Church, Mount Zion Baptist, the King, Dr. Martin Luther King, elementary school, those are lasting monuments to him, Wilson said. “I would think that he will look back, and I think he will look back fondly and said that, well, he did say before he died that the lessons he learned in Albany, Georgia, made him a better leader as he went to Birmingham and beyond. So there’s no way Albany can be looked at as a failure because it prepared who was one of the leader of the modern Civil Rights Movement, it prepared him to bleed on to then within to Selma and then to Memphis and, and two other places, the module in Washington, which, which by the way, and August 28 of this year was celebrating 60 years. Since that, I Have a Dream, speech. And I’m looking to rally this community to do some kind of commemoration for that 60-year anniversary.”
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