During the Civil Rights Movement in 1961, police detained approximately 40 Albany State College students for taking part in protests. One of them was Annette Jones. She had been crowned Miss Albany State, but she was expelled while also losing her crown.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) field secretaries, Charles Sherrod, and Cordell Reagon, traveled to Albany, Georgia in October 1961 to arrange nonviolence workshops and to begin voter registration drives. At the time, Albany’s population was 40% black, but few people were registered to vote. The community was also fully segregated, yet many residents were afraid to speak up because of Police Chief Laurie Pritchett’s fear-culture created to oppress the black community.
The SNCC, which had always relied on young people to lead the Civil Rights Movement, turned to student leaders in the city for assistance in overcoming the terror instilled by the police. Jones of the historically Black Albany State College was assigned to the SNCC field organizers (today Albany State University).
Jones was already a member of the local NAACP youth council, advocating for integration and seeking to prevent her peers from being harassed by Whites on campus.
Jones was conscious of segregation and bigotry as a child growing up in Albany. “By the time I was five, the bathroom at Belk had been denied to me, and I had an accident right there.” In an interview, she recounted how “everyone laughed at me.” “I had Santa Clause decline to communicate with me. He reached around me and got all of the white children.”
Jones registered to vote while still a student at Monroe High School because a teacher required all of his students to do so when they became 18, according to a report by documentary website SNCC Digital Gateway, and she was selected “most likely to succeed” of her graduating class.
After high school, Jones began working as a secretary for C.B. King, Albany’s only Black attorney. She quickly enrolled at Albany State University, where she quickly rose to become a student leader advocating for student rights.
Jones assisted the two SNCC field secretaries in speaking with students about voter registration and civil rights when they arrived on campus. In October 1961, she attended the first community gathering for civil rights, which was held in the basement of Bethel A.M.E. church. She also made it a point to attend SNCC training on direct action, sit-ins, boycotts, and other nonviolent action strategies.
Direct action anti-segregation protests erupted in Albany the following month, in November. Just before Thanksgiving, two Albany State students — Bertha Gober and Blanton Hall — attempted to purchase tickets at the Trailways bus station’s white counter. According to a report from SNCC Digital Gateway, they were arrested but refused bail, opting to stay in jail for the holidays “to emphasize their desire for justice.”
Their arrest prompted the Albany Movement, a desegregation and voting rights alliance, to hold its first mass assembly. Jones recalls going home following the arrest of her fellow Albany State students and being unable to sleep.
“I felt like my entire body was on fire.” Now I had something constructive to do with my accumulated rage and bitterness over the years. In the words of C.B. King, the Albany Movement’s lawyer, “I had finally found a shape for the expression of my discontent.”
Jones and other students went to university dorms the night following the Albany Movement’s first mass meeting to encourage students to join a protest march the next day. The following day’s march drew only a few students. As they began walking, though, other students joined them. Some community members and high school students also participated. Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested two weeks after the march, including Jones, who was jailed in “Bad” Baker County.
Jones eventually returned to Albany State to take the tests she had missed while in jail, but she was asked to leave campus by school officials. For their involvement in the protests, Jones, Gober, Hall, Bernice Johnson, and Anne Boyer were expelled from school. 34 other students were also suspended from Albany State. Jones, who had been crowned Miss Albany State, was also dethroned.
“White was crowned Miss Albany State in the fall of 1961 but was forced to choose between accepting the title and the scholarship that came with it and continuing her role as a civil rights fighter,” according to freedommosaic.com. White chose to assist end segregation, which resulted in her suspension from Albany State University, eventual expulsion, and the loss of her Miss Albany State crown.”
Despite losing her crown, she went on to become one of the most important advocates in the Civil Rights Movement. Jones received her education at Atlanta’s Spelman College. She received her English degree in 1964 and continued to work with SNCC during her summer vacations. She went back to Spelman College as a staff member after earning a Master’s degree from Virginia State University.
Jones and her colleagues were honored by Albany State University nearly 50 years later for their contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. A series of events were held to honor them throughout Homecoming Week. Jones’ crown was also returned to her.
“No matter what anyone said, it wasn’t as significant as Albany State saying we’re sorry, you were right, and we want you to come back,” Jones remarked at the time.