Albany came to the forefront of the civil rights movement in 1961. Albany State College was an African-American college in Georgia. In November 1961, SNCC mobilised students to protest about the segregation and disenfranchisement experienced there. This protest did not receive support from local NAACP and other civil rights leaders as they saw SNCC as troublemakers.
Albany’s bus centre was targeted. The law forbade segregation in interstate travel services; however, segregation still existed and this is what forced the students to protest. Hundreds were arrested. Albany’s city authorities refused to desegregate the bus station despite pressure from the Attorney-General, Robert Kennedy.
Someone in the Albany civil rights movement invited Martin Luther King to join the protest. This angered SNCC who wanted the protest to stay led by locals.
King led one protest march and got arrested. The city authorities played a cat and mouse game. They decided no-one would be arrested and jailed; students were arrested and released. In this way there were no ‘martyrs’ to the cause and the nation’s media were less likely to be attracted to what was going on – the opposite of what happened in Birmingham. They also promised the creation of a biracial committee to look at Albany’s problems. King left the Albany movement and returned to Atlanta.
The authorities went back on their agreement but the movement had lost momentum. Protests became less and less well supported. Albany was recognised as a major defeat by the civil rights movement. However:
the bus station was desegregated
a few more blacks registered their right to vote.
city parks were closed
city swimming pools were shut down
the city library was integrated but the seats were removed
schools remained segregated – despite 1954 Brown v Topeka.
No violence was used by the authorities in Albany and African-Americans had been seen as the cause of trouble rather than the authorities. The lack of violence meant that the federal government had no reason to intervene; social disorder was not threatened as it had been in Little Rock.
Another clear problem was the failure of SNCC/SCLC/NAACP to co-operate.
King recognised that an area that had little SCLC support would not welcome SCLC help; also that the authorities within the South could not be trusted and that a political approach would be less effective that a financial one – boycotts which would affect the financial well being of the white community.