Trip Ideas

Seven Must-See Civil Rights Sites in Albany

Learn more about the Albany Movement through exhibits, historical markers and unforgettable live musical performances in this southwest Georgia city.

  • Bus Exhibit at the Albany Civil Rights Institute

    Kalin Thomas

Albany, Georgia, may be small town, but it packs in a huge amount of African American history, especially when it comes to civil rights. In 1961-1962, the Albany Movement was the first mass movement to have as its goal the desegration of an entire community. Local leaders called on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to bring national attention to their efforts, and his experiences in Albany later influenced his future actions in Birmingham.

Begin exploring Albany's civil rights history at these seven locations throughout the city.

The Albany Civil Rights Institute

Albany Civil Rights Institute in Albany, Georgia. Photo by Kalin Thomas

The Albany Civil Rights Institute is the best place to start your tour for an overall look at Albany's part in the civil rights movement. Interactive exhibits show how ordinary people joined in nonviolent protests and boycotts as they fought for voting rights and desegregation of public places.

Newspaper coverage of the Albany Movement. Photo by Kalin Thomas

Here, you'll learn about activists like the Criterion Club, founded in 1947 by African American letter carriers, which became the first black civic organization in Albany to protest segregated practices and helped to form the Albany Movement. The Institute includes a museum, research center and the rehabilitated Old Mount Zion Baptist Church, where crowds gathered to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak.

One of the original Freedom Singers from the 1960s, Rutha Harris sings at the Old Mt. Zion Baptist Church the second Saturday of each month. - Kalin Thomas

Every second Saturday from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m., you can hear the Freedom Singers perform at the Albany Civil Rights Institute. The group was formed in 1998 by original Freedom Singer, Rutha Harris. She was 22 in the 1960s, when the original Freedom Singers performed in 46 states, drawing aid and support for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Rutha Harris with a photo of herself and the other original Freedom Singers in the 1960s. Photo by Kalin Thomas

Nearly 60 years later, Harris is still giving visitors chills as she belts out freedom songs like "I Woke Up This Morning" and "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round." Join in a sing-a-long and feel the inspirational energy that helped give the civil rights movement its marching rhythm.

Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church

Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Albany. Photo by Todd Stone

Across the street is Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, where the Albany Movement was formed and led to the national civil rights movement. Like Old Mount Zion, Shiloh was a site for mass meetings and drew a crowd of more than 1,500 when Dr. King came to speak. Don't miss the Georgia Historical Society Civil Rights Trail marker at the front of the church, which honors the Albany Movement. And if you're visiting during Black History Month, you'll have another chance to hear the Freedom Singers perform.

Albany State University

SNCC marker outside Old Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Albany. Photo by Kalin Thomas

To see where the SNCC Freedom Singers started, visit Albany State University. The historically black university was founded by the son of former slaves to improve conditions for the South's African American population by offering industrial and religious education. In 1962, when the school was still called Albany State College, the Freedom Singers was formed by Bernice Johnson, Charles Neblett, Cordell Reagon and Rutha Harris. During the Albany Movement, the first two protesters arrested, Blanton Hall and Bertha Gober, were also Albany State students. Distinguished alumni of the school include Katherine Clinton, an electronics engineer for NASA, and Alice Coachman, who was the first African American woman to win an Olympic medal for a record-setting high-jump in 1948.

Ray Charles Plaza and RiverFront Park

Ray Charles Plaza in Albany, Georgia

Take a break for a picnic lunch at the Ray Charles Plaza and RiverFront Park, where there is a life-size sculpture of the Albany-born entertainer seated at a baby grand piano on a rotating pedestal. Charles became a friend and financial backer of Dr. King during the civil rights movement and also composed protest songs, such as "Danger Zone" and "You're in for a Big Surprise." After 1963, he refused to play before segregated audiences.

Take a seat on one of the piano key benches and rock to Charles' R&B music played at timed intervals. Then, walk off your meal along the greenway trail or splash around in the Water Play Fountain. 

The Bridge House

For a look at more of Albany's history and culture, don’t miss the 12-minute movie, "From the Heart of Southwest Georgia" at the Albany Welcome CenterThe center is in the restored 1848 Historic The Bridge House, built by former slave and master bridge builder Horace King.

Albany Civil Rights Movement Memorial

Albany Civil Rights Movement Memorial

Close out your visit at the Albany Civil Rights Movement Memorial at Charles M. Sherrod Civil Rights Park, located in the Harlem Business District. Charles Sherrod came to Albany in 1961 with SNCC to organize a voter registration drive. The memorial fountain commemorates Albany's pivotal role in the civil rights movement with a timeline of events. The movement in Birmingham  was successful because of the lessons Dr. King and other activists learned during the Albany Movement.

Kalin Thomas is a writer with a passion for tourism, cultural heritage and historic preservation. She has traveled to six continents — including Antarctica — and is currently writing a book about her travels, "Do You Know She's Black? The journey of CNN's First Black Travel Reporter."

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