It was on my birthday in 1999 when, being fairly new to the community, I first heard the song, Oh, Pritchett, Oh, Kelley, Open Dem Cells.
The Albany Freedom Singers were performing at the civil rights museum as they’ve done on virtually every second Saturday over the past 15 years. And I’ve been singing along to Open Dem Cells and other freedom songs every since — because of their catchy tunes and their messages of love and hope –while steadily becoming educated about what white people put black people through in this community throughout Albany’s history.
In 2000, retired Albany schoolteacher Mary Royal Jenkins compiled and penned Open Dem Cells: A Pictorial History of the Albany Movement, the most complete account of how Black people in Albany straightened up their backs and stood up for their constitutional rights. The book is a staunch resource for history educators and I trust it is part of the Dougherty County public schools’ curriculum.
Since the publication of Jenkins’ Open Dem Cells, I have served on the civil rights museum’s board of directors (with Jenkins) and I even portrayed Pritchett — the venerable Albany police chief — in a King Celebration play about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s role in the Albany Movement. It’s been a blessing, spiritually and otherwise, to learn from Jenkins, the Freedom Singers and others who unselfishly tell the story of the Albany Movement at the museum and in travels domestically and even abroad.
Today and over the next three weeks, we at The Albany Journal are extremely proud to share “Reliving and Learning Black History: A Black History Month 2010 Celebration” with our wonderful community. We think the Journal’s February editions, which liberally extracts information from Open Dem Cells with Jenkins’ permission, could become keepsakes themselves.
Please join us in thanking Jenkins, a civil rights activist herself during the Movement, and Albany’s other heroes for advancing social justice for all of us in our community and beyond.