ALBANY — As she sits on a bench in Sherrod Park, where monoliths in a fountain recount critical elements of the Albany Civil Rights Movement, Realtor Lula B. Davis, who’s worked in that industry for 43 years and knows virtually every square inch of real estate in Albany’s Harlem District, points to buildings across the street.
“Eureka Baptist Church, which is on Lily Pond Road now, was right there,” Davis says. “There was Buck Giles’ supermarket right there, Cochran Studio, Dr. Smith’s drug store, the Southwest Georgian (newspaper) was put together right over there until they built this monument and the paper was moved back across the street.
“Over there was Connie’s Corner; Dr. Gordon’s father had a Standard Oil station on that corner. … There was Poteet Funeral Home, the city’s first black attorney’s office, Dr. William Anderson’s office …”
Davis, who met on a recent sunny afternoon with former Albany Civil Rights Institute Director Frank Wilson, city of Albany Downtown Manager Laquerica Gaskins and Albany City Commissioner B.J. Fletcher, was not at the Jackson Street park to reminisce. She was there with the others to promote renovation of the Harlem District and to offer a late-in-the-game reminder that Wednesday is a significant day in Albany’s history: the 60th anniversary of the start of the Albany Movement.
“The plans for the city’s Transportation Center (which is being built at 300 W. Oglethorpe Blvd.) and other plans to renovate the Harlem District are timely announcements,” Wilson said. “November 17 marks the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Albany Movement. This is a significant part of this city’s history, and these plans coming about will help create a future that will mimic and exceed this district’s past.”
Davis said the city and its residents, particularly those who lived through the turbulent civil rights era, should readily acknowledge the significance of the Harlem district and its part in the Albany Movement, even if there is no formal marking of the occasion.
“At one time, this little area was the only place where blacks could do business in this city,” she said.
Gaskins said the city is indeed considering the importance of the district and the Civil Rights Movement as it works on a redevelopment master plan. The kickoff meeting for the plan, which offered members of the community the opportunity to add their thoughts to the mix, was held Saturday.
“The anniversary of the Albany Movement is very significant to Albany’s history, and development of downtown by the Albany Development Authority, Albany-Dougherty Inner-City Authority and the city certainly includes the Harlem District,” she said. “Tourism will be a big part of our master plan, and this area’s history figures prominently into tourism plans.”
Fletcher, too, said the city government is widening its focus of downtown development as officials look to revitalize the city’s central district.
“I’ve said all along that people tend to just call Pine Avenue ‘downtown,’” the Ward III commissioner said. “But we must include all of downtown, especially with the rich history of the Albany Movement and the Harlem District. Even if you have a messy past, there is a need to be aware of it, to know your history. This city’s roots grew from here.”
But Wilson said he’s been discouraged by African Americans who shield their children from the city’s history.
“From a purely ethnic standpoint, every other ethnic group cherishes their community, their history,” he said. “Look at the Jewish community, for example. It’s not enough for kids to see those footprints on the sidewalk starting at Shiloh Baptist Church, they need to know what those footprints are about.
“I had a lady tell me recently that her children don’t need to know all the hardships (blacks) endured during the civil rights era. I was stunned. If you don’t know where you’ve been, you don’t know where you’re going.”
The small group all agreed that Wilson’s recommendation that Albany have a black history museum as a companion to the Civil Rights Institute would widen the opportunity for young people to grasp the significance of African Americans in the community outside the Albany Movement.
“Before I left the Civil Rights Museum, we were able to acquire all of (Olympic champion) Alice Coachman’s effects except her gold medal,” Wilson said. “That’s worthy of recognition outside the civil rights struggle. There’s a sorority founder, one of its national presidents, the first black Congressman from Georgia … all these people who had a significant impact on our region, our state, our nation and even the world … and our kids know nothing about them.
“I’ve made an attempt in the past to, if not make it a full course, at least make it a requirement that Albany State University students visit the Civil Rights Museum. No student should spend four years in Albany and not know everything there is to know about the civil rights history in this city.”
The question then becomes, how do leaders bring these ideas to fruition.
“It’s not enough to just let people know about these things, we have to get them involved,” Davis said. “We’ve got to get them out here under these trees, make them see the significance of these vital parts of our history.”
There also should be a requirement for participation, adds Wilson.
“Frankly, we’ve got to get people involved who have more than an ounce of give-a-damn,” he said. “We need people who give more than lip service, the people who tell everyone about what’s not being done rather than insisting that it get done.”
That’s the kind of attitude and commitment, all agree, that would have made Wednesday’s 60th anniversary of the Albany Movement a cause for celebration and not just an afterthought.