Monday, April 21, 2008

Nikki beat me to it

At "home" in Albany, GA (first 2 weeks of March) the projects were nonstop. I live so far away (in Colorado) and can't get back to help my mom very often, so we have to get lots done when we can. This was to be a working visit. Thankfully, T. did tasks under the house and on the roof as well as plumbing and electrical jobs. I painted, shopped for lighting and plumbing fixtures, rugs, etc., bought and set up a computer, did a little yard work and painted some more (until I got a respiratory infection that sent me to the local emergency clinic.) While the paint dried one day I took a break and set out to find what I had read about in the local paper on a previous visit. At that time I saw that Nikki Giovanni (poet, activist, and professor) had been in town speaking at the civil rights museum. I didn't know we had a civil rights museum! I've had a book of poetry by Nikki Giovanni since 1980, but was surprised to think she was in Albany for an event. I missed it, but I promised myself I would find out about this museum when I came back to Albany.

This time T. was with me and we drove around some of the areas east and south of downtown, near Albany State, near the Flint river, near the new civic center, past the old cemetery where the coffins floated in the flood of '94. We didn't see any museum. Finally closer to downtown again we drove down Whitney. There on the corner was Shiloh Church, and across the street, the old Mt. Zion Church. The former Mt. Zion Baptist now houses the Albany Civil Rights Museum. There is a brick sign out front telling us we are at the right place. But is it the right time? No one's around and the doors are shut, but the hours posted on the door say it should be open. T. was brave enough to knock and a somewhat surprised young woman unlocked the door and let us in. I said we would like to look around. She said there was a $4 charge per person. I glanced around the room and didn't see many of what I would call exhibits, but said "Okay, sure." As she walked with us she stopped at each panel where documents, photos and newspaper clipppings were displayed and recited a brief history related to each.

I was struck by the photos of Danny Lyon, a northern white civil rights worker who was the first official photographer of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). I can only imagine how displeased the local white authorities must have been to have him documenting the things happening here in the early '60s. It was a volatile situation and the protests that occurred here revealed how deeply ingrained segregation was. As in Memphis, the more I saw and read, the heavier I felt. Here were local people (while I was living safely across town!) who were involved in a great struggle, fearing for their lives at times, beaten or jailed at times. I recognized the names of whites and blacks in some of the news articles displayed. These names and events were being explained from a very different perspective than what I had heard at the time they occurred and after. My parents had protected me from something they thought I couldn't understand as a young child, just as my friends' parents had protected them. We heard only minimal information about the turmoil that eventually resulted in the removal of "white only" signs on public bathrooms, bus seats, and doctors' waiting rooms.

to follow: more about the turmoil


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