Ralph DiGia Fund for Peace & JusticeIllusStainGlass

With the Peace Walkers in Albany, Georgia

(Editor’s Note-Ralph DiGia wishes to thank WRLers who wrote him and the CNVA Canada-Cuba peace walkers while they were in Albany city jail. For a more detailed story of DiGia’s Albany experience, read his article in the March issue of LIBERATION.)

Ralph AlbanyThis photo was taken on February 22 shortly after 24 members and supporters of the Canada-Cuba peace walk were released from city jail in Albany, Georgia. Like most of them, I had fasted for 26 days. As you can see from the photo, I had lost considerable weight (25 pounds) and temporarily had gained a beard.

Our unfinished jail terms ended unexpectedly under a compromise agreement providing that an integrated team of five would walk along four blocks of the heretofore forbidden downtown business section. The team included Bradford Lyttle, the walk’s leader, Yvonne Klein, Tyrone Jackson, Edith Snyder and Tony-Brown. The rest of us walked out of town along Oglethorpe Avenue.

The compromise agreement had been worked out by four white ministers whose consciences had been aroused as a result of talks with A. J. Muste and Dave Dellinger. City authorities at first rejected the agreement, giving a lame excuse about traffic problems, but finally accepted it. During our imprisonment, they had received protests and inquiries not only from the U.S., but from Canada and England. Three of us jailed for coming to Albany to support the walkers are Canadians and one is English.

The significance of the agreement which we had won is indicated by the fact that on the very day of our release, 50 Negroes in small groups demonstrated on voter registration in the downtown business section, and were not arrested. Until then, any demonstration in that part of town was met by Police Chief Laurie Pritchett with immediate arrests.

On The Inside Looking Out

As I wrote in the last issue, when I arrived in Albany on January 13 and visited the jailed walkers, I was struck by the miserable conditions in the city jail. Only two weeks later, I joined the walkers in trying to start out again through the downtown business section and found myself on the inside of jail looking out.

Before being sentenced, eight of us spent more than a week in a 7-by-8 cage with 4 bunks. After sentencing we were transferred to “the hole”-a filthy 10-by-12 room with 6 bunks for 17 men. The only breaks in the solid four walls were a couple of screened and barred openings about 9 feet above the floor. For sleeping, we had to cover the floor with dirty mattresses. Laughingly, we called it wall-to-wall mattressing.

Our Fellow-Prisoners

When we were taken to “the hole,” we were confronted with 9 southern white prisoners. For a moment, I thought we had been put there to be beaten-up. Then, one of us passed around cigarettes and the tension was broken. Before long we were joining in a verbal blast at the prison conditions. As time went on, we found little opposition from them on the peace issue. But on the integration question, they disagreed with us in varying degrees and with considerable emotion. Most of them felt that integration is inevitable, which would put them at the bottom of the social ladder.

Surprisingly, most of them were opposed to the KKK and considered Klansmen as “crackpots.” Our fellow-prisoners felt that we should be allowed to peacefully walk through the city and distribute our leaflets. I feel that they had reached this conclusion as a result of having had personal contact with us and thus found out that we were, as one put it: “nice guys even though their ideas are screwy.”

Fasting in Jail

Once the first moments of uneasiness had passed, I began to wonder about surviving a fast what with the general filth, the foul air and the constant coughing and sneezing. I recalled my initial shock at the prevailing conditions when I first visited the jail. Now, somehow, they didn’t seem so bad-even though they hadn’t changed. I had simply gotten used to them.

I was already on the 10th day of fasting when we were put in “the hole.” By the 17th day, food would occupy much H of my thoughts. Certain favorite dishes would creep into my daydreams-particularly toward evening. I promised myself to always keep my refrigerator well-stocked in the future. After the third week, I concluded that although man “does not live by bread alone,” food surely does help.

A Settlement is Negotiated

Even before A. J. Muste and Dave Dellinger came to Albany, we were thinking about means of resolving the issue over which we were imprisoned. We did not want to stay in Albany indefinitely. The walk had to go on.

Furthermore, we felt that many gains had been made during the two months in which the walkers had been detained as a result of the city authorities’ stiff attitude on civil liberties. The story of the walk had reached people not only in Albany but in many parts of the United States and .. even abroad. Also, the groundwork had been laid for cooperation between peace and civil rights groups, not only in Albany but possibly elsewhere. We, therefore were pleased to hear about the negotiations and were receptive to the compromise agreement which was worked-out.

On my way back to New York-and the WRL office- I again had a stopover at the Atlanta airport. The Confederate flag-bedecked newsstands, which had startled me six weeks earlier, were still in the center of the vast waiting room. It was midnight and all was quiet except for the tranquilizing music emanating from loudspeakers. I felt as though the recent weeks had been not real-that I had been sitting through a long, nightmarish movie.

Article originally appeared in the March 1964 issue of Liberation Magazine. 

Written by , updated 22/3/08

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