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‘The Albany Movement’

‘The Albany Movement’
Georgia HBCU to produce documentary on town’s role in the civil rights movement.
By Natalie Y. Moore

Before Birmingham and Selma, Ala., became benchmarks for change during the Civil Rights Movement, the tiny town of Albany, Ga., was a testing ground for desegregation in the early 1960s.

Some organizers considered the movement a failure because Albany remained segregated for years. The laws may not have changed immediately, but many residents who were involved in the movement in the southwestern Georgia town have a different perspective. A group of mass communication students at Albany State University are producing a documentary, “The Albany Movement” to highlight successes and tell the hidden stories behind the town’s legacy.

“What the media did is make Martin Luther King look like Superman. He’ll get all the credit but there were a lot of key role players. Albany was a stepping stone to success,” says Terrence Turner, a senior at Albany State.

More than a dozen students in an upper-level mass media seminar class are working on the documentary. They recently received a $5,000 grant from the National Black Programming Consortium as part of a contest with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Blackside, the producer of the lauded the 1980s PBS documentary “Eyes on the Prize,” that chronicled the Civil Rights Movement in a 14-hour series.

Fifteen historically Black colleges received grants to create original student media-based projects that explore aspects of the Civil Rights Movement. The 10-minute pieces will run online in 2007 with the possibility of being picked up by PBS affiliate stations. The competition coincides with the 20th anniversary of the airing of “Eyes on the Prize.”

“We wanted to engage students in these issues…so many younger African-American students were unaware [of “Eyes on the Prize”],” says Brad Burford, outreach coordinator for the NBPC.  “Black colleges had a large role in the Civil Rights Movement, which prompted the competition.”

At Albany State, students are producing the content and filming for the documentary, which will be 30 minutes in its final product but whittled down to 10 minutes for the NBPC Web site. The grant will pay  for equipment.

For many of the Albany State students, interviewing people and researching a movement from more than 40 years ago gave them a connection to a previous generation in a way that television and history books had not.

“You never really realized what these people were doing. When someone is in your face and tears come to their eyes…it’s a totally different feeling than watching it on television,” says senior Ebonie Ward.

At the beginning of the semester, Dr. Colin Lasu gave his mass communication students an assignment to produce a documentary on the role Albany played in the Civil Rights Movement. King had come in 1961-62 and Albany Police Chief Laurie Pritchett didn’t sic the dogs on protesters as other law enforcement officers had in other Southern cities. He jailed people resisting segregation, but there were no reports, at least publicly, of Whites attacking Blacks. Perhaps, consequently, segregation in Albany stayed in place. King and others left to do nonviolent protesting in places like Alabama.

But desegregation eventually came, and the lessons learned in Albany helped other parts of the South.

“Albany ended up being the grounds of MLK and he then reshaped the strategies in Selma and Montgomery,” Lasu says. But those “golden years” in Albany needed to be documented — especially by students, he says.

“Civil rights is this distant thing that happened a long time ago. This [project] has sort of brought it home. Albany State was a part of this,” Lasu says. “My hope is that this gets [students] involved in civic activities.”

Students have been talking to activists about the importance of freedom songs and learning about boycotts against businesses unfriendly to Blacks. They are also learning about members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a bench with spikes on it to prevent Blacks from sitting down in a neighborhood that didn’t want them. That bench is still in Albany as a reminder.

In December, the students will screen “The Albany Movement” on campus.

Other HBCU grantees are Spelman College, which is doing a project on violence against women on college campuses; and Jackson State University, whose students are profiling veterans in the Civil Rights Movement. Delaware State University, Hampton University, Norfolk State University and Tennessee State University also received $5,000 each.

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