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Cities: Albany

Northern Clergy  Protest in Albany

On Tuesday, August 28, 1962, at the request of the Reverend Dr. King and Albany Movement leaders, seventy-five clergy and church members of various races and religions traveled to Albany to demonstrate in front of City Hall and show their support for the Albany Movement. Some of the protestors came from other parts of Georgia. However, the majority of the protestors came from states outside of the South: primarily New York and Illinois, but also Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Texas, and Washington, D.C.

Praying, reading aloud from the Scriptures and singing songs such as “We Shall Overcome,” the protestors stood for fifteen minutes on the sidewalk. As they read, Chief Pritchett walked up and down the sidewalk and asked them to disperse “in the name of decency and justice.” He also informed them that they will be arrested if they continue their demonstration. As the protestors remained standing on the sidewalk, Pritchett ordered his officers to arrest them. Meanwhile, hundreds of white Albany citizens gathered on the sidewalks and veranda of the New Albany Hotel, located across the street from City Hall, to watch the protestors. When the police marched the demonstrators to the "Freedom Alley" behind City Hall, the crowd of white citizens whistled, cheered, and clapped.

The demonstrators were charged with disorderly conduct, creating a disturbance, congregating on the sidewalk, and refusing to obey an officer. Bond was set at $200 cash each. The jailed protestors reportedly underwent a voluntary twenty-four hour “fasting period” before all but eleven posted bond and were released. In this WSB clip, two clergymen describe their involvement as they leave the jail.

Because it emphasized peaceful means as a way to obtain social justice, and since its most prominent members such as Dr. King were often religious leaders, the Civil Rights Movement attracted participants, like the clergy in this story, from a variety of faiths. The involvement and visibility of clergy in acts of civil disobedience gave moral authority to the Movement. Clergy who marched or preached in support of Movement goals strengthened the argument that segregationists advocated hatred, violence, and disorder: themes inconsistent with most of the world's religions. Some of the most revered national documents, such as the Pledge of Allegiance, had united Americans under the banner of Protestant religion. So it made sense that clergy would come together in the Movement and hold the nation's leadership accountable for equality for all of its citizens. Later, some activists would separate from organizations such as the SCLC because they found them too restrictive.

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Discussion Questions

1. How did activists in the Albany Movement utilize spirituals in their protests? Go to the Eyes on the Prize web site and find more spirituals that have such socially relevant themes.

2. Read Bernice Johnson Reagon's remarks on the Eyes on the Prize web site about singing freedom songs at mass meetings and marches. When Freedom Singers sang songs like "This Little Light of Mine," the "I" or first-person singular pronoun meant the group: the "WE" that together would end racism. During the above protest in downtown Albany, Rabbi Richard Israel, then the Chaplain of Yale University, as well as a minister from Grace Methodist Church in New York City, the Rev. Ralph Lord Roy, were both arrested. When they were released from custody, Rabbi Israel told a reporter, "I must remember that I was a slave in the land of Egypt. There are other people today who are not totally free." (See this WSB clip). By the early seventies, some black activists questioned whether or not working across racial and religious boundaries was effective. What do you think about this shift?

3. Another moment when a critical mass of northerners came down to assist the activists was during the Freedom Rides of 1961. The Supreme Court in Boynton v. Virginia (1960) had ruled that segregated interstate bus and rail transportation was unconstitutional. To test this decision, student members of the Congress of Racial Equality left Washington, D.C., on May 4, 1961, to ride through the South to New Orleans. What rationale did northerners of various races and religions have for participating in the Movement?

Take it to the Streets!

Identify a current social issue that polarizes or divides Americans in the United States. Research a week's coverage of this issue in two or more of the following news sources: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The New York Times, USA Today, BBC Online, National Public Radio Online, and your local city paper. At the end of the week, discuss patterns you see in the coverage and reasons why the news sources might report on this issue differently. Write a short essay analyzing these patterns and the reasons for them.

Writer: Courtney Thomas  
Editors: Christina L. Davis, Deborah Stanley and Diane Trap  
Researchers: Lauren Chambers, Aggie Ebrahimi, Professor Barbara McCaskill 
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