A Landmark Reborn
The Albany Civil Rights Movement Museum at Old Mt. Zion began in 1994 with the incorporation of Mt. Zion Albany Civil Rights Movement Museum. For years, various groups in the city of Albany discussed the need for a museum about the Albany Movement. Mt. Zion Baptist Church made the dream a reality. Under the leadership of Pastor Daniel B. Simmons, Mt. Zion donated its 1906 church building to house the museum and provided the initial funding.
The newly organized nonprofit organization and museum began fundraising to restore the old building to its appearance during the time of the Albany Movement. In 1994, the Dougherty County Commission voted to include the Museum in the list of projects to be funded for $750,000.00 by revenues from a special sales tax. The City of Albany donated an additional $250,000.00 to the project and the museum board raised an additional $100,000 from private individuals and businesses.
In 1998, the Old Mt. Zion Church was restored to its former glory and the Albany Civil Rights Movement Museum opened its doors on November 16. A weeklong Jubilee Celebration brought movement activists, civil rights scholars and people from all walks of life to take a look back and reflect on the future as they commissioned the museum.
The original museum housed an exhibition of photographs by photographer Danny Lyon and collections donated by Mr. and Mrs. Adrian Jenkins, Sr., Mr. Adrian Jenkins, Jr., Rev. Samuel B. Wells, Ms. McCree Harris, Mrs. Juanita Harris Gardner, Mrs. Carol King, Ms. Penny Patch, Mrs. Ware, Mr. Charles Wingfield, the Albany Chamber of Commerce, the Albany Southwest Georgian, the Albany Herald, and many other contributors.
At the end of the Civil War, black members of the Albany Baptist Church formed their own congregation which eventually became known as Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. In 1906, the congregation built a majestic church home at the corner of Whitney Avenue and Jefferson Street. In 1961, representatives from several community organizations met and formed a new association – The Albany Movement—to coordinate local civil rights activities. Rev. E. James Grant courageously opened the doors of old Mt. Zion for the group’s first mass meeting even though it put him and the church at risk of economic and physical reprisals from segregationists. Mt. Zion Church continued to host mass meetings including those in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to capacity crowds.
As one of the first cities where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and four major civil rights organizations – Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) – joined forces, Albany is nationally noted as a key civil rights battleground. The old Mt. Zion Church building held a prominent place in the history of the Albany Movement and provides a perfect setting for a museum commemorating those events. It islisted on the National Register of Historic Places.
Albany Movement President Dr. William G. Anderson, Wyatt Tee Walker (SCLC), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ruby Hurley (NAACP), and Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy (SCLC) at the pulpit of Old Mt. Zion Church, December 1961.