In 1961 during the Civil Rights Movement, police arrested nearly 40 Albany State College students for participating in Civil Rights demonstrations. Annette Jones was one of them. She had been crowned Miss Albany State but she lost her crown and was also expelled.
Charles Sherrod and Cordell Reagon, field secretaries of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), had in October of 1961 traveled to Albany, Georgia to organize workshops on nonviolence and to start off voter registration efforts. Albany’s population was 40 percent Black at the time but few were registered to vote. The city was also completely segregated but many locals were scared to speak up due to the culture of fear that had been created by Police Chief Laurie Pritchett.
The SNCC, which had always depended on young people to be at the front of the Civil Rights Movement, decided to turn to student leaders in the city for help to overcome the fear that had been created by the police. The SNCC field organizers were directed to Jones of the historically Black Albany State College (today Albany State University).
Jones was already a member of the local NAACP youth council, who was fighting for integration and hoping to stop her fellow students from being harassed by Whites on campus.
Growing up in Albany, Jones was aware of segregation and racism in the city. “By the time I was five I had been refused use of the bathroom in Belk and I had an accident right there. People laughed at me,” she recalled in an interview. “I had Santa Clause refuse to talk to me. He reached around me and got all of the white children.”
Influenced by adults who believed in voting and equal rights, Jones registered to vote while still a student at Monroe High School because a teacher took all of his students to register when they turned 18, a report by documentary website SNCC Digital Gateway said, adding that she was voted “most likely to succeed” of her graduating class.
Jones started working as a secretary for C.B. King, Albany’s only Black attorney, after high school. Soon, she enrolled at Albany State, where she swiftly became a student leader fighting for the rights of students.
When the two SNCC field secretaries arrived on campus, Jones helped them speak with students about voter registration and civil rights. She participated in the first community meeting for civil rights that was held in the basement of Bethel A.M.E. church in October 1961. She also made sure she never missed SNCC’s workshops on direct action, sit-ins, boycotts, and other methods of nonviolent action.
The following month, that is November, direct action protests against segregation broke out in Albany. It is documented that just before Thanksgiving, two Albany State students — Bertha Gober and Blanton Hall — attempted to buy tickets at the white counter of the Trailways bus station. They were arrested but declined bail and chose to remain in jail over the holidays “to dramatize their demand for justice”, according to a report by SNCC Digital Gateway.
Their arrest triggered the first mass meeting of the Albany Movement, a desegregation and voters’ rights coalition that was formed. Jones recalled that after the arrest of her fellow Albany State students, she went home and could not sleep at all.
“I felt as if my whole being was on fire. Now there was something positive I could do with the anger and resentment that had built up over the years. At last, in the words of the Albany Movement’s lawyer, C.B. King, I had ‘found form for the expression of my discontent.’”
The Sunday night after the first mass meeting of the Albany Movement, Jones and other students went to campus dorms to call on students to join in a protest march the next day. Only a few students came for the march the following day. However, as they began walking, other students joined. Some members of the community and high school students also joined. Two weeks after the march, the police arrested hundreds of the protesters, including Jones who was sent to jail in “Bad” Baker County.
Jones later came back to Albany State to write the exams she had missed while in jail, but school authorities asked her to leave campus. Jones, Gober, Hall, Bernice Johnson, and Anne Boyer were expelled from the school for being involved in the protests. Albany State also suspended 34 other students. Jones, who had been named Miss Albany State, was also stripped of her crown.
As freedommosaic.com wrote: “White was crowned Miss Albany State in the fall of 1961, but was forced to decide between accepting the title and its accompanying scholarship or continuing her involvement as a civil rights activist. White chose to help end segregation, a decision that led to her suspension, eventual expulsion from Albany State University, and the loss of her Miss Albany State crown.”
Losing her crown did not deter her from becoming one of the powerful voices of the Civil Rights Movement. Jones completed her education at Spelman College in Atlanta. She earned her degree in English in 1964 and continued to work with SNCC over summer vacations. She later earned a Master’s Degree from Virginia State University and went back to Spelman College as a staff member.
Almost 50 years later, Albany State University honored Jones and her colleagues for their actions during the Civil Rights Movement. They were honored all throughout Homecoming Week with a series of events. Jones’ crown was also restored.
“All of us who were expelled had a basic hurt and a feeling of incompleteness because of what happened and no matter what anybody said, it wasn’t as important as having Albany State say we’re sorry, you were right and we want you to come back,” Jones said at the time.