Monday, April 11, 2011

Oh Freedom!: Roundtable on The Albany Movement

Singing "Oh Freedom!," chair Brian Joyner of the National Park Service began the session with music in the tradition of civil rights meetings typical of the Albany Movement. The importance of music to the Albany Movement continued as a theme in panelists’ answers to both Joyner’s and the audiences questions. After shortly describing this coalition of civil rights groups that challenged segregation in Albany, Georgia in 1961 and 1962, Joyner turned the session over to the roundtable discussion, asking questions about the Albany Movement both historically and as viewed and commemorated today.

The roundtable worked particularly well for this session. Panelists Jeanne Cyriaque of Georgia's Historic Preservation Division, Bill Austin of Dorchester Academy, and Marna Weston of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida ably answered Joyner and the audience’s questions and the audience eagerly discussed the issues and, with other authorities on the topics in attendance, even answered some questions! The session not only provided information about the Albany Movement, shedding light on its history and importance to the growth of the 1960s civil rights movement across the South, it also addressed some issues of particular interest to public historians, especially when thinking about race.

Discussion about connecting with African American communities emphasized building relationships. Marna Weston stressed the importance of long-term relationships and being patient; for instance, when he practicing oral history he gets to know the people he’s interviewing over a period of time, beginning by asking them questions about themselves. Relationship-building also begins within institutions. All panelists agreed that discussions about race with both colleagues and the community are hard but necessary. When approaching such discussions, be sure to listen and remember that people are people first. Through discussions and long-term relationships we can build collaborative efforts to create projects and programs that memorialize local events of particular significance to the African American community like the Albany Movement.

All panelists agreed that commemoration of local events and people is important. “People just want something,” Joyner said, and it is our job as public historians to make sure documentation is happening. We need to advocate even for simple recognition. For instance, while large projects like the National Register may be time-consuming or impossible for various reasons, we shouldn’t forget about other forms of commemoration like statues or state historic markers. The roundtable’s discussion brought to light the importance not only of learning about issues like the Albany Movement and their connection to wider histories, but also building relationships and making sure to document and commemorate local stories in order to better serve our diverse communities.

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