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Albany, the seat of Dougherty County , has been the commercial hub of southwest Georgia for most of its history. Although it had competitors, namely Americus , Thomasville , and Valdosta , around the beginning of the twentieth century, Albany remains the urban center of the region. The city supports a ificant museum, the Albany Museum of Art , which features one of the largest collections of African art in the Southeast.
In October the land speculator and merchant Nelson Tift founded Albany on the banks of the Flint River to serve as a market for recently arrived cotton farmers. Planters and their enslaved African American laborers settled southwest Georgia, which the state had recently acquired from the Creek Indians. By the Albany region had attracted so many slaveholding farmers that enslaved African Americans outed whites. Most of the newcomers to Dougherty County were African Americans brought to cultivate its rich cotton lands.
Its growth and vitality were directly related to the cotton market. From there the bales of white fiber were shipped to mills in the North and Europe. In the completion of a rail line to Albany allowed commission merchants to ship cotton to Savannah , a more direct connection to northern and European markets. Eventually Albany would become the rail center of southwest Georgia, with seven railro serving the community and as many as thirty-five trains arriving and departing daily. In addition to promoting railro, Nelson Tift secured a state monopoly for ferry and bridge rights across the Flint River at Albany.
Tift hired the African American bridge builder Horace King to erect the covered toll bridge and a bridge house, the entrance to the span. The brick bridge house, nearly a century and a half old, still stands on the west bank of the Flint in downtown Albany. A third of its population was African American, but almost all were enslaved.
Baptist , Methodist , Episcopal , Presbyterian , and Catholic congregations had each built churches on city lots donated by Tift, but the majority of antebellum residents remained unchurched. Both the Baptist and the Episcopal church had more enslaved members than free whites.
A small Jewish community held religious services before the war, but its congregation was not organized until the postbellum era. After U. The end of slavery, however, brought revolutionary changes to the region. In more than 2, Black men in Albany and Dougherty County registered to vote, and over the next fifteen years they elected three African American legislators to the state legislature. Whites in Albany resisted Black enfranchisement through intimidation and voting fraud, and by they had succeeded in reducing the of registered Black voters in Albany to twenty-eight.
The vast majority of Black adults did not own property; the men worked as day laborers and draymen, the women as washwomen and cooks. But on Saturday suddenly the whole county disgorges itself upon the place, and a perfect flood of black peasantry pours through the streets, fills the stores, blocks the sidewalks, chokes the thoroughfares, and takes full possession of the town. Agricultural changes in twentieth-century Dougherty County brought ificant change to Albany as farmers switched from cotton to more profitable crops.
Beginning in the s, farmers began planting pecan trees. In the Albany District Pecan Exchange completed its factory building and warehouse, and pecans became a major Albany product. Peanuts were another major commercial crop, and shelling and processing plants were built in the city. In the s livestock became important, and in a large meat-packing plant was built. World War II had an important impact on Albany. Two airfields were established to train British and American pilots.
Many servicemen ased to Turner Field decided to stay or return to Albany after the war. Albany experienced its greatest population growth in the s and s, when its total population almost tripled, to 55, in Although African Americans doubled their s in Albany during the boom, they could not keep up with the white population, which quadrupled.
Geographically, the city expanded steadily in modern times. Occupying a little more than one and a half square miles when it was incorporated in , Albany today consists of fifty-seven square miles. In the s the city saw its first overall population decline, from slightly more than 78, in to just under 77, in If the central historical event of nineteenth-century Albany was emancipation , the key development of the twentieth century was the civil rights movement.
The groundwork for organized protest against segregation in Albany was laid with the establishment of a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter in the wake of World War I and its revitalization in the s. Yet at important moments Black residents of Albany rose above these divisions, as they did in November when they organized the Albany Movement.
African Americans had been unsuccessful in their attack on segregation in Albany in , but they did increase the of registered Black voters, and in the city commission struck its Jim Crow ordinances from the books. The Albany Civil Rights Institute , which opened in , commemorates the movement. Yet whites continued to control local politics through citywide elections for the city commission. In , however, as a result of a federal court order, district elections for the city commission were held, and two African Americans—Mary Young and Robert Montgomery—won.
In John White became the first Black man to represent Albany in the state legislature in nearly a century. At about the same time African Americans were appointed to the Dougherty County schoolboard for the first time. Business and commercial establishments expanded toward the northwest, and the downtown began to deteriorate. With the opening of the Albany Mall in , long-established firms closed their downtown stores. Mayor James H. Gray Sr. His sudden death in briefly interrupted the Central Square project.
In addition, the U. The s, however, saw an economic downturn that began with the closing of the Naval Air Station at Turner Field. The economic decline eased in the late s, and several major industries established new plants in Albany in the s. Eventually the state took over the school and made it a two-year, and eventually a four-year, college. In the Board of Regents established Albany Junior College to meet the needs of white residents for higher education close to home. Albany Junior College eventually became Darton College, a two-year institution that was successful in attracting a substantial of students of color.
In the college became a four-year institution named Darton State College. It was the early major link with the outside world, but it soon demonstrated to Albany residents the power of nature. Major floods hit Albany in and , but no one was prepared for the year flood that devastated southwest Georgia in the summer of By the time the Flint River crested at more than forty-three feet in Albany, the worst-hit community, twenty-three square miles of Dougherty County were under water, and 23, residents had been forced to evacuate. The cost of damage was reckoned in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Out of the tragedy, however, came much good. Although the river has not been tamed, the city has shown greater respect and appreciation for it. Exhibitions focus on the natural habitats of the Flint River, and educational displays explain and promote water conservation. In December the Ray Charles Plaza, which commemorates the birth of the musician in Albany, opened along the river.
Formwalt, Lee. Formwalt, L. In New Georgia Encyclopedia. Albany, the seat of Dougherty County, has been the commercial hub of southwest Georgia for most of its history. Although it had competitors, namely Americus,…. The lighted bronze statue, created by scupltor Andy Davis, commemorates the legacy of musician Ray Charles, who was born in Albany in The New Georgia Encyclopedia does not hold the copyright for this media resource and can neither grant nor deny permission to republish or reproduce the image online or in print.
All requests for permission to publish or reproduce the resource must be submitted to the rights holder. Protestors march in Albany during the Albany Movement, an effort to desegregate the city that lasted from fall to summer Courtesy of Walter J. All requests for permission to publish or reproduce the resource must be submitted to the Walter J. Two men attempt to rescue a cow in high water near Albany during the Flint River flood of The Flint River has overrun its banks several times in Albany's history; the most severe flood occurred in the summer of , when the river crested in the city at more than forty-three feet.
Courtesy of Georgia Archives , Vanishing Georgia, dgh View on partner site. Requests for permission to publish or reproduce the resource should be submitted to the Georgia Archives. In Tift sold the bridge to Dougherty County. Shown here in , the bridge was destroyed in when the Flint overflowed its banks during a flood. In the late nineeteenth century, farmers in Albany began to replace cotton with pecans as their primary commercial crop. The federal courthouse in Albany, named for civil rights attorney C. King, was deed by architect J. Robinson in and completed in It may be the first federal courthouse in the United States to be deed by an African American architect.
Author Lee W. Formwalt , Organization of American Historians. Originally published Mar 26, Last edited May 4, Early History In October the land speculator and merchant Nelson Tift founded Albany on the banks of the Flint River to serve as a market for recently arrived cotton farmers. Albany Locomotive Courtesy of Steve Storey. Albany Movement Courtesy of Walter J. King U. Courthouse Courtesy of Jeffrey L. Article Feedback Why are you reaching out to us?
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