One of Albany’s leading chroniclers of the civil rights movement is coming home from Indiana to continue his work. Indeed, Lee H. Formwalt helped found what is now the Albany Civil Rights Institute, for which he will serve as executive director, in the mid-1990s.
Formwalt, 58, served for the last 10 years as the executive director of the Organization of American Historians in Bloomington. Along with civil rights movement veterans McCree Harris, Art Searles Sr. and Bee McCormack, Formwalt organized the effort to acquire the old Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Whitney Avenue for a museum, which recently underwent a $3.75 million taxpayer-funded expansion.
Formwalt received a Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America in 1977. He spent the next 20 years teaching history at Albany State University. Through the use of local courthouse records in his teaching, he became involved in doing local history and became strongly connected to the community. This subsequently led to his founding the since-renamed Civil Rights Movement Museum at Old Mt. Zion, and coordinating a state humanities council conference on the history of the civil rights movement.
In 1997, Formwalt became the dean of the Graduate School at Albany State. While he was somewhat reluctant to leave the teaching and research that he had found so satisfying, he discovered that administrative work offered the opportunity to make decisions that could bring about needed changes. One of his goals at the OAH is to welcome all who practice American history, whether inside or outside the academy, and to reach out to those isolated historians who haven’t felt a part of the broad national historical community.
Formwalt begins his new post in mid-November.