Timeline - Winter 1961
Let the Student Revolution Begin
The famous Leonard Carson Letter was submitted to WALB and the Albany Herald. It all started in January when Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes integrated the University of Georgia, to the dismay of White students in Athens. WALB radio station went on a daily racist diatribe about how integration of the school would lower its reputation. Finally, when the station announcer went too far, by stating that U of G was going from a Who's Who to a Who Dat, many ASC students decided they had heard enough. Albany State College SGA students, Leviticus Roberts, Olivia Blaylock, Miss ASC, Lewis Carter, Weyman Patterson, Annette Jones, and Melvin Webb created a letter in response to WALB. Leonard Carson, Chairman of the Committee on Civil Affairs, was born. The name and committee were fictitious. In the letter they declared "we are not content with inferior conditions…we want equality." The letter was signed Leonard Carson by Lewis Carter and delivered by Melvin Webb.
Leonard Carson Backlash Reaches Albany State's Campus
On January 24, 1961, the letter is published in the Albany Herald in the People's Forum. Albany State College administrators received a barrage of negative and threatening phone calls. This firestorm of verbal attacks prompted President William H. Dennis to publish a front page article in the next day's Albany Herald denying that Leonard Carson was a student at the college. Dennis also called an emergency meeting of the student body, that same day, in Caroline Hall. He denounced the letter and declared Carson did not exist at ASC. In defiance, Bernice Johnson rose and stated "There are five hundred Leonard Carsons at Albany State." The students applauded and cheered. The President demanded the student body discontinue their harmful activities that would tarnish the school's reputation.
The President says No Sit-Ins
Members of SGA presented a list of grievance questions to President Dennis at his on- campus home. He accepted the questions, but later, at an all campus assembly, he vehemently denounced the questions and the SGA students that gave them to him. Again, he demanded the students discontinue any civil rights activities and he further stated that the college would not support or condone the Southern Student Sit-In Movement.
Albany State Student Government Suspended
President Dennis suspended Student Government for the rest of the year by padlocking the office doors, after he had moved SGA leader, Leviticus Roberts, from campus with a student teaching position at Spencer High in Columbus - instead of his original post at Monroe High. Many viewed this as an effort to defuse campus leadership. Dean Wright made the announcement concerning the administration's decision at a meeting of SGA in the Student Center. After the Carson letter, there was an increase in attacks by White males speeding through campus shooting guns, throwing rotten eggs, and burning a cross in front of Gibson Hall. Many students complained to campus security, that had more than tripled. In fact, things got so bad, Annie Dyson was injured when she was sideswiped by a car. Charges were filed, but a school official came to the trial and dropped the charges - nothing was done. That summer, after this incident, Dean Irene Asbury Wright resigned her post in protest when President Dennis refused to speak with her about the college's bad treatment of its students.
The Peace Hall Solicitation
In October, Bernice Johnson, a counselor of freshman in Peace Hall, answered the dorm phone and intercepts a sexually solicitous phone call from a White man. She made an appointment to meet with her caller, meanwhile before the meeting, she notified her advisor and campus security. The head of campus security and her advisor intercepted this man in his volkswagen and security reported his tag number to Laurie Pritchett, Albany Police Chief. The police refused to intervene that evening. However, the next morning, Johnson and the head of ASC Security met with Pritchett, who took down her account. The Albany Police claimed they went to his home, but nothing was ever done to the White man because his wife denied he was in town.
Charles Sherrod and Cordell Reagon of SNCC arrived in Albany and came to ASC to meet with student leaders. The two came to Albany to begin organizing voter registration drives in Southwest Georgia. At these meetings, with ASC students, they discussed conditions in the city and on campus. They also attended the NAACP Youth Council meetings. It was here that Sherrod and Reagon provided accounts to the students of ASC and Monroe High about the Sit-Ins in Nashville, TN and Petersburg, VA. They also talked about the Freedom Rides and Robert Kennedy's November 1 effective date of the new Interstate Commerce Commission Ruling concerning desegregation of travel facilities. When Charles Jones arrived, the three began a series of small group meetings and nonviolence workshops with students at ASC and Monroe High.
Might Not Be No Coronation
Annette Jones, Miss Albany State College, was questioned by the Dean of Students, Charles Minor and another individual, Rev. Brown - after a community wide mass meeting. Jones was told that if she did not stay away from the radical groups, "she might not have a coronation."
They Spied On Us
Student's parents were contacted and told that radical elements were invading campus. Albany State College's administration warned them that their students were being influenced by these groups. After parents were warned, many students involved in protest activities were followed by college officials. The administrators eavesdropped and reported on students talking in small groups or seen talking to SNCC leaders.
The ICC Ruling and Angst in the Ranks
November 1 - Nine NAACP Youth Council Members, including President Bobby Burch, tested the ICC ruling, after Charles Sherrod, Cordell Reagon, and Salynn McCollum, SNCC observer, conducted the first Freedom Ride from Atlanta to the city. Albany police asked the students to leave the "Whites Only" waiting room at the Trailways Bus Station. The violation was reported to Atlanta's SNCC office. The Georgia state NAACP leadership heard about SNCC's influence over the Youth Council students in Albany and sent Director Ruby Hurley and NAACP State Counsel, Vernon Jordan, to one of their meetings. Hurley asked the students to choose SNCC or the NAACP. After a vote, ASC students Bertha Gober, Blanton Hall, Annette Jones, and Bobby Burch picked SNCC, but Bernice Johnson, stunned, did not vote but later chose SNCC.
The Black Community Came Together
November 17 – The Albany Movement was officially formed. Organizations such as the Criterion Club, the Women's Federated Clubs, SNCC, the Masons, the Interdenominational Alliance, and the Baptist Ministerial Alliance came together to form the group. It was later that representatives came to Dr. William Anderson to request he consider being President of the Albany Civil Rights Movement. He chose to accept the post. Bernice Johnson and Annette Jones were asked and chose to serve as student representatives on the Program Committee for the Albany Movement.
Let the Protest Begin
November 22 – Albany State College student Evelyn Toney and Monroe High School students Julian Carswell and Eddie Wilson, all NAACP Youth Council members, were arrested for disturbing the peace in the "Whites Only" restaurant at the Trailways Station. They were bailed out a few hours later, in keeping with NAACP policies. After their arrest, students filled the Trailways Station on the White side trying to buy tickets to go home for Thanksgiving Break. Albany State's Dean Minor entered the station and forced students to go to the "Colored Only" waiting room. Later that same day, ASC students, Bertha Gober and Blanton Hall, were arrested for disturbing the peace when they tried to purchase tickets at the "Whites Only" counter. They refused bail following SNCC's "jail no bail" philosophy. They remained in jail until November 24. After their release, all the ASC students that were arrested spoke at the mass meeting at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. It was there, that they announced their trial dates and told everyone about their indefinite suspensions from Albany State College.
Albany State College Students March
November 25 – ASC Students, Bernice Johnson, Frank Shaw, Janie Culbreth, Margaret Worthy, Melvin Webb, Anne Booyer, Stanley Jones, and Annette Jones canvassed ASC dorms to get students to join the march to the court house at Albany's City Hall to protest the trials of the students arrested at the bus terminal.
No Arrest That Day But We Will Not go Away
November 26 – Bernice Johnson and Annette Jones lead hundreds of ASC students on a march to city hall to protest the trials. SNCC leaders, Charles Sherrod, Cordell Reagon, and Charles Jones monitored the march. At city hall, Monroe High and Carver Junior High students joined ASC's group on the stair case. There were well over one hundred students at the stairs. Albany police asked them to leave, instead Charles Jones prayed. They continued to march in a circle around city hall while the trial was in progress. There were no arrests that day. The students on trial were found guilty, fined, and released. After the march, the students and SNCC convened at Union Baptist Church in a mass meeting where Reverend William Boyd was pastor. At this meeting, Bernice Johnson raised the old spiritual "Over My Head" to a Freedom Song when she changed its lyrics to "I See Freedom in the Air." They later returned to campus and staged a protest through Caroline Hall, Margaret Hazard Library and the Science Building to protest Blanton Hall's and Bertha Gober's suspensions. They also marched to get more students to join the Albany Civil Rights Movement.
Thou Shall Not Trespass
November 28 – Charles Sherrod was arrested for trespassing on Albany State College's campus when the administration spotted him speaking with students. He spent the night in jail. Later, students received threats from ASC about their participation in civil rights activities. Many were told they would lose their scholarships, loans, jobs, and have to pay all out of state fees that had been waived. Annette Jones was fired from her volunteer post in the English Department. Students were no longer allowed to gather in small groups of more than three on campus. The administration's threats scared away hundreds of students and prevented them from participating in the Albany Movement. In response, Janie Culbreth wrote a poem that was published in the Albany Herald. It was entitled "A Brighter Day." In it, Culbreth expressed her disappointment in her fellow classmate's lack of participation in the movement.
Freedom Riders On A Train
December 10 - Eight Freedom Riders and an observer arrived at Albany's Union Station on board a Georgia Central Train. They intended to see if the City of Albany was going to obey the ICC desegregation ruling for interstate travel. Chief Pritchett sealed off the station waiting area where ASC student, Bertha Gober, and SNCC leader, Charles Jones, were waiting. Once they walked through the station and met the crowd of well wishers in front of the station, they were arrested for disturbing the peace, including Bertha Gober, Charles Jones, and innocent bystander, Willie Mae Jones. The Freedom Riders that arrived in Albany were as follows: James Forman, Norma Collins, Joan Browning, Thomas Hayden, Per Larsen, A. Lenora Taitt, Bernard Lee, Robert Zellner, and Sandra Hayden, Observer . Their trials took place on December 12, 1961 after an unforeseen delay.
Let Us March On City Hall
December 11 – A small group marched on city hall and prayed on the steps on behalf of those Freedom Riders who were arrested the day before. The demonstrators were arrested and a mass meeting was called at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Hundreds of folk attended the meeting, so it overflowed into Shiloh Baptist Church across the street. The audience at the mass meeting was fired up about the arrests and many wanted to stage a protest the next day. Albany State College students, Bernice Johnson, Anne Booyer, Frank Shaw, Margaret Worthy, and Annette Jones spread the word on campus about the march on city hall. They wanted as many students as possible to meet in front of Caroline Hall at 8:00 am.
A Black Cloud Over Albany
December 12 – Janie Culbreth and Annette Jones waited in front of Caroline Hall. No other students showed up to participate in the demonstration. Jones and Culbreth took a taxi to SNCC's office on Jackson Street. Fewer than one hundred students showed up from Albany State College because of the threats made by the college's administration. The line of protesters stretched back to Whitney in front of Shiloh Baptist Church. Anne Booyer joined Culbreth and Jones and the marchers walked to city hall singing freedom songs. A light drizzle started and the drizzle would continue for a week. Many reporters said there was a black cloud over Albany. There were policemen all along the route to city hall and all two hundred and sixty-five marchers were arrested. Jones, Culbreth, and Booyer were arrested by Chief Laurie Pritchett. He ordered them and those behind them into the alley beside the police headquarters. This alley is now referred to as "Freedom Alley." The alley was tight and cramped and young and old stood for hours at a time waiting to be booked. Marchers were placed in cells in groups of twenty-four. The cells were only meant to hold four. Later that evening the cell numbers were reduced to five or six because many were sent off to county jails, including Janie Culbreth and Anne Booyer.
We Shall Pack the Jails
December 13 – Albany State College Students, Brenda Darten and Annette Jones were among forty females taken to Newton, Georgia at 6:00 a.m. Later, that same day, a second group of marchers protesting the arrests from the prior demonstration, left Shiloh walking toward city hall and were arrested for parading without a permit. Included in this group was Bernice Johnson, many other students from ASC and Monroe High as well as community folk. On city buses, marchers, including Bernice Johnson, were taken to the Lee County Stockade. Others were taken to Camilla, Georgia. The FBI arrived in Albany and created centers to aid in finding the whereabouts of persons arrested and taken out of Albany.
Americus Has Our Leaders
December 16 – The City Commission stopped all negotiations with the Albany Movement's leadership. Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. William Anderson, and Reverend Ralph Abernathy led the third mass march where two hundred sixty-five people were arrested for parading without a permit. The leadership of the movement that were arrested ended were sent to Americus's jail. Other marchers were sent to Dawson's and Moultrie's jails in another segment of Southwest Georgia.
Shall We Negotiate
December 18 – The City Commission leadership agreed to negotiate, but they refused to sit in the same room with Blacks. Chief Pritchett and city attorney, Grady Rawls, carried messages back and forth between the rooms. Marion Page, C.B. King, and Donald Hollowell were among those sent by the movement leadership to negotiate with the City Commission. The two groups finally agreed that the protesters were to be released from jail within two days on property bonds and previously paid cash bonds were to be refunded and replaced with security bonds.