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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Laurie Pritchett, April 23, 1976. Interview B-0027. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Subverting King's nonviolence strategy to Pritchett's advantage

Pritchett discusses how his strategy confounded Martin Luther King's attempts to pack the jails. He credits his use of civil rights non-violence strategies for his success. This passage also reveals both the power of the local police and the power of local white solidarity.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Laurie Pritchett, April 23, 1976. Interview B-0027. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Let's get this into focus, now, because actually what happened: the mayor at that time was Asa Kelly. He was a judge in Georgia now, and he was a practicing attorney, Asa Kelly. And unknown to anybody, unknown to me or I don't guess any other city council, he had given permission for these blacks to parade in an orderly fashion in downtown. And they did. No one bothered them. The police were there. There were always up in the thousands of whites on one side of the street, and the police were in the middle. And they marched. After they come up, you know, the mayor said he had given permission, so they did. And he told them they had permission to circle the block twice, and then after that they were to go back. And they continued to circle. And then they begin to move off the sidewalk; they were blocking pedestrians. There were so many of them that people couldn't get in or out of the stores on the street. And that's when we asked them to disperse. And I don't think any was arrested that day. That alley they're talking about, they called it Freedom Alley. It was just an alley between the police headquarters and some other buildings, and they called it Freedom Alley, because that's where most of them ended up. And we would book them, fingerprint them, mug them, put them on buses and ship them out. We never did what they intended to do. And King's philosophy, you know, was on Gandhi's, the march to the sea where they just filled the jails to capacity, and no place to put them, and then you've got to turn in to it. Out plans had been made where we had the capability of 10,000 prisoners, and never put a one in our city jail. They were to be shipped out to surrounding cities that were in a circle. And we had fifteen miles, twenty-five miles, forty-five miles on up to about seventy miles that we could ship prisoners to. JAMES RESTON, Jr.: Now who worked out that plan?
I did. JAMES RESTON, Jr.: Of course it was your idea to do it that way.
Yes, because, like I say, I'd studied the thing. I'd read a lot about King and used his . . . on Gandhi on overpower them by mass arrests. He knew our jail facilities were limited, and he felt if he brought four hundred people, with four hundred arrests we'd have no place to put them. But they'd already bought part of the buses; they were out of business, so the city buses brought the buses in. We'd fill them up, send them to Camilla or surrounding cities around Albany, and they would put them in their jails and we'd leave personnel there to watch them. So we never had any in ours. JAMES RESTON, Jr.: Well now, that had to be worked out with who, with the governor?
No, it was worked out with the local people, and the sheriffs in the surrounding cities, police chiefs in the surrounding cities, the commissioners and local government. And they said, "Look, you're fighting our battle. We know if Albany falls all of us fall, so we're with you." And they didn't charge us for upkeep or anything. We'd have been about sixty miles from Atlanta, the last place we could have kept them. And like I say, we'd have twenty-four hundred.