Like its neighbor across the street (Old Mount Zion), Shiloh Baptist is one of the Mother Churches of the Albany Movement. The congregation was organized in 1888. The present structure was built by contractor A. S. Cobb in 1953, during the pastorate of W. H. Calhoun. Jim Bishop notes in his 1971 book, The Days of Martin Luther King, Jr., that one of his most famous phrases was first delivered in a sermon here: “We shall overcome. Don’t stop now. Keep moving. Don’t get weary children. We will wear them down by our capacity to suffer.”
A 2014 historical marker notes: The Albany Movement began here, at Shiloh Baptist Church, in November 1961. A coalition of black improvement associations and student activists from SNCC and Albany State College, the protest group set an unprecedented goal: the desegregation of an entire community, from bus stations to lunch counters. Demonstrations over two years resulted in the detention of 1,500 protesters. The participation and repeated arrests of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. brought national attention to the Albany Movement. Music sustained the campaign in Southwest Georgia and gave birth to the SNCC Freedom Singers. Legal action and the increase in black voter registration led to school desegregation, the end of public employee discrimination, and the election of black political officials in the region. Lessons learned in Albany influenced events in Birmingham in 1963.
Mount Zion is one of the largest congregations in Albany today. Their old home, now a part of the Albany Civil Rights Museum, was built in 1906. But the history goes back to just after the Civil War. According to their website: The Mount Zion Baptist Church of Albany, GA was organized December 8, 1865 by the late Rev. R. R. Watson. The church’s original location was in a building then known as the Jerry Walter’s Blacksmith Shop, which was located on the corner of State Street (now Highland Avenue) and Jackson Street. A successful financial drive made it possible to purchase land for the church at Washington Street and Highland Avenue. Twenty-six hundred dollars was raised for this purpose. However, before the structure was completed, it was destroyed by a storm. Nevertheless, the site at South Street (now Whitney Avenue) and Jefferson Street was purchased. An old house brought from Leesburg, Georgia was donated to the congregation by a Yankee Colonel named Howard. This became the first church structure at that location. Northern teachers taught school in that building until a schoolhouse was later erected.
Old Mount Zion hosted some of the earliest meetings of the Albany Movement of the Civil Rights Movement and hosted important figures including Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Andrew Young, and Ralph David Abernathy. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Freedom Singers, who participated in the March on Washington, gave their first performance here.
This church served the congregation until 1972, when they relocated to a larger facility.
Oakview and the adjacent Riverside Cemetery make up the largest historic burial ground in Albany. I’m presenting just a few of the monuments which I found aesthetically appealing, in no particular order. One could spend a whole day here exploring the wide array of Victorian monuments.
“Pattie’s Grave” is perhaps the best-loved monument in Oak Hill. My taphophile friend, Cynthia Jennings, told me that it was a must-see and it didn’t disappoint. Pattie was the nickname of Martha Dillon Wright Jones. The monument features an angel of white Italian marble housed in a Gothic steeple enclosure. Little is known of Pattie, but the monument notes that she married Columbia County native Edwin Thomas Jones (22 May 1831-1 September 1867) at Appling, Georgia, on 4 April 1850. Jones would later serve as Lieutenant of Company E, 4th Georgia Infantry. It further notes that Pattie “died at the plantation of her husband…in Dougherty County”. The monument is an indication that he was deeply saddened by her early death.
Edward Vason Jones, scion of a prominent Albany family, was one of the most noted Georgia architects of his time and a member of the Georgia School of Classicism led by J. Neel Reid. Originally schooled in dentistry, he abandoned it in favor of architecture in 1936, and soon joined the Atlanta firm of Hentz, Reid, and Adler. He briefly designed ships for the Navy in World War II at Savannah. After the war he opened his own firm in Albany. His renovations of the Diplomatc Reception Rooms of the U. S. State Department between 1965-1980 were well-received and one of those rooms is now known as the Edward Vason Jones Memorial Hall. He also oversaw renovations in the White House during the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations. Other significant work include Gillionville Plantation, the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion, and numerous residential commissions throughout the South.
This Classical monument adorns the grave of Edward Vason Jones’s beloved daughter Nella. It is said to have been modeled after one of similar design in Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery, which was destroyed by a storm in recent years.
This is one of six nearly identical markers, made of local stone, in an eight-grave lot surrounded by coping of the same construction.
The figurative monuments of the Bell sisters, daughters of William S. and Texas Sheffield Bell, are typical of the Victorian era, when child mortality rates were nearly 33% higher than they are today.
The monuments honoring two of the children of Dr. Palaemon L Hilsman and Ella G. Rust Hilsman are more examples of Victorian child mortality. Even in a family of doctors, the Hilsman children weren’t immune from early deaths.
The Greek Revival mausoleum of the Samuel Bernard Brown family [founder of the Exchange National Bank], in the Jewish section, is one of the finest in Oakview.
Tomlinson Fort was Regents Professor and Chair of the Mathematics Department at the University of Georgia for many years. His son followed his footsteps to academia and chaired the Chemical Engineering departments of Carnegie Mellon and Vanderbilt universities. The Forts were descendants of Warrenton-born Tomlinson Fort (1787-1859; buried at Memory Hill in Milledgeville), an early Georgia medical doctor who helped establish the Medical College of Georgia and the State Lunatic Asylum. He was also a member of the Georgia legislature and the United States Houses of Representatives.
John Porter Fort was the son of Congressman Tomlinson Fort. He dug the first artesian well in South Georgia and was an early booster of the apple industry in North Georgia. An early agricultural scientist, he was awarded a “Doctor of Science” by the University of Georgia.
Nelson Tift, a native of Groton, Connecticut, was the founder of Albany.
This is the most important architectural landmark in Albany, and one of the most significant surviving Greek Revival homes in Southwest Georgia. It was built by Judge David Alexander Vason (12 February 1818-13 July 1891). Judge Vason, who was married three times, was the grandfather of one of Georgia’s most prominent architects, Edward Vason Jones. Edward grew up in the house [the Georgia Archives holds a photograph of the infant Edward with his African-American nurse, Leila Perkins] and later restored it to a state befitting its elegance.
I’m unsure as to the history of this apartment building, but it may be the only example of Streamline Moderne architecture in Albany. It appears to have been remodeled at some point, but it was likely built mid-century.
This eclectic Queen Anne house is one of the largest residential structures in downtown Albany, situated on a massive lot. Its scale is quite impressive. From Trulia: This house boasts a rich history with Nelson Tift, founder of Albany, as the original landowner. The original home had 5 stories, the top two destroyed in a fire in 1956. The third floor is currently being used as attic space. The original woodwork, mantles, banisters and moldings, were hand carved. The five fireplace mantels are made of cherry or mahogany wood. The 12 ft. mantel in the front center office was purchased at the Chicago’s World Fair in 1885. This office and the stairwell both feature original Tiffany glass stained windows. This property is also home to last known artesian well in the South Georgia. The stone wall surrounding the property was constructed with local limestone. In addition to serving as a private home to Confederate Col. Edwin Wight and Dr. W.L. Davis, it served as a funeral home for 35 years.
Rock fences surrounding the property add another dimension to its character.