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The Beat of Civil Rights

While there were many famous Civil Rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., the movement would not have succeeded without thousands of unknown heroes who marched and protested. Albany native Rutha Mae Harris grew up singing in Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church founded by her father in 1932. She recalls life in the segregated town of Albany. In 1961, Charles Sherrod went to Albany to organize protests against segregation. The plan was to boycott business that depended on black customers to survive until they hired black workers. African Americans marched in the streets and were arrested. They protested the arrests and when they were not protesting, they were in churches organizing and planning. Harris became part of a group called the Freedom Singers. She describes how singing empowered her. Albany churches were filled with people singing about freedom. Harris demonstrates how the words of a familiar spiritual could be changed to become a freedom song. Today Harris and Sherrod teach Civil Rights songs to the next generation. She still sings in the choir and loves those songs. Harris is glad she was a part of the movement and did something so positive for herself.

Teacher tip: Ask students to dig deeper and learn more about the Freedom Singers from Albany and what they did to advance the Civil Rights movement.