If you think the struggles we face in Albany are something of recent history, and the past was somehow better, you would have a very rose-colored view of our yesteryears. Albany has been a struggle from the beginning. Any boom periods we have enjoyed have been hard fought. A lot of us ‘boomers’ were shielded from those battles, and grew up thinking that life here was good and easy. It never has been easy, but it has been good. It can be again, if we understand who we are, and where we are going.
Founded by New York bankers, led by Nelson Tift, Albany was a risky venture that many in the group soon lost faith in. Tift and a handful of others continued on, but their plans changed in the face of challenges. The original idea was to make Albany a river port for the agricultural goods of the area. But the river was not the reliable connection to the rest of the world they had hoped for. Were it not for the coming of the railroad, Albany could have easily slipped into obscurity.
As a practical matter of the times, albeit a sad chapter, Albany also found itself right in the middle of the slave trade. Life in Albany has always been hard, and the lessons of our history are hard ones to learn. With our educational challenges today and community relations as a whole being a top priority for our growth, we must make an effort to learn those lessons and move forward. Knowing our shared history can be a source of strength, or strife. It can bring us closer or keep us apart. Looking back with hatred, division, and resentment will only keep us chained to our failings. At some point we have to move on together if we are going to move on at all.
My own story is tied to the railroads. Both my parents came from railroad families. The two sides of my family tree could not be more different. Mother’s family was more rural. Her family was, and is, large and close. My grandmother is still with us at 102. My maternal grandfather was a foreman for a track repair crew.
My father’s family was a big one as well, but more “city-fied”. His father was a clerk at the station house. They were for the most part, a high energy, outgoing bunch and dealt with a lot of serious familial issues, but they were a blast to be around at Christmas. Both sides instilled in me a sense of who I was and a pride in knowing the struggles they faced. A city can do the same thing.
There are many communities all across this country that deal with the same economic and racial struggles we do, that stand in their way of progress, just as ours do. The difference is they do not have our history. We should understand the value of our starting point, how hard it was from the beginning, and how for so long, we were starkly divided as a community, when we measure how far we have come in Albany and Southwest Georgia. This is not an attempt to justify anything other than who we are. There is certainly a lot of work still to do for ourselves and our children. But Albany can hold its head high when it comes to dealing with the serious issues of the times. We may not have always gotten things right, we’re not perfect, but efforts were made by good people, and hopefully the lessons have been learned.
Albany has two first rate museums that tell our story; The Albany Civil Rights Institute, (www.albanycivilrightsinstitute.org), and Thronateeska Heritage Center (www.heritagecenter.org/). Every parent in Albany should make sure they get their children and themselves through the doors. You will be amazed at our story. True, we are no different than other cities. All have a story to tell, some more exciting and world renown than ours, but ours is just that; ours. You will know we’ve turned a corner in our collective comeback when we say, “I’m from Albany”, with an awareness of the past and a belief in our proven, historical ability to persevere tomorrow.