Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a pretty good grasp of the historical significance of his civil rights work as it was happening and afterward. And King’s self-assessment of his attempts to effect social justice in Albany was brutal:
“The mistake I made there was to protest against segregation generally rather than against a single and distinct facet of it,” King said in his autobiography. “Our protest was so vague that we got nothing, and the people were left very depressed and in despair. It would have been much better to have concentrated upon integrating the buses or the lunch counters.
“One victory of this kind would have been symbolic, would have galvanized support and boosted morale … When we planned our strategy for Birmingham months later, we spent many hours assessing Albany and trying to learn from its errors. Our appraisals not only helped to make our subsequent tactics more effective, but revealed that Albany was far from an unqualified failure.”
Many historians agreed with King, calling his efforts in Albany “a failure” as few concessions were garnered from city government in the name of equality for local citizens. But many Albanians who fought for freedom in their hometown said their efforts indeed were fruitful, as Blacks began being elected to local political office by the late 1960s.
Before King first visited Albany on Dec. 15, 1961, Albany police chief Laurie Pritchett had studied the tactics of nonviolent protest. He did not allow his troops to confront demonstrators or creating scenes of police brutality, especially while the press was around. And he farmed arrested protesters to jails and prisons as far away as Americus, keeping his jail free. King said he “had planned to stay a day or so and return home after giving counsel.“ But the next day, he was indoctrinated to the civil rights rebuttal, Albany style, by being arrested along with dozens other Blacks.
King declined bail until the city made concessions, which were reneged by the city when King left town. When King returned to Albany in July 1962, he was arrested again and sentenced to 45 days in jail or a $178 fine. Three days into his sentence, Pritchett arranged for King to effectively be kicked out of jail. He stayed in town, was arrested again and jailed for two weeks, and left town after he was released.
King, Albany Movement founder William G. Anderson, the SCLC and other locals and visiting civil rights activists attracted nationwide attention with mass meetings and marches that mobilized thousands of citizens. But attention and sympathy to the cause occurred when King and the SCLC moved on to Birmingham and Selma, where violence on the part of hard-line police forces brought attention and sympathy to the cause. And while organizers failed to accomplish their goals, the Albany Movement is credited as being a key lesson in strategy and tactics for the national civil rights movement.