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Victory in Albany:
Remembering Laurie Pritchett

2,391 words

Laurie Pritchett and Martin Luther King [1]

Laurie Pritchett lays down the law to Martin Luther King

People on the Alt Right tend to look forward a lot. After all, a future consisting of viable white ethnostates in Europe or North America is something we all want. What helps fuel this, however, is looking backwards into history and reminding ourselves of how good things were before mass Third-World immigration started to bring down our countries. We can also look to the past to remember how self-confident whites tended to be regarding race. Whites in large numbers need to reestablish this self-confidence if we wish to reclaim our homelands in the future.

One episode from history which exemplifies white racial self-confidence is that of Laurie Pritchett. Pritchett was the Albany, Georgia police chief at the time when Martin Luther King, Jr. and Civil Rights organizations such the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were looking around for southern cities to desegregate. In 1962, SNCC decided to target Albany and sent black volunteers there to test their segregation laws. These volunteers, mostly students, walked up to “whites-only” ticket counters at bus stations and train stations to see what would happen. Predictably, Pritchett had them arrested.

What SNCC expected and what they got with Laurie Pritchett were two completely different things. Pritchett was no draconian hardliner like Birmingham’s Bull Connor or Selma’s Jim Clark. Instead, he was clever and sophisticated. Described as “a round-faced, impish-looking man with pink skin and light red hair,” Pritchett had taken the time to study the tactics of not only Martin Luther King, but also those of King’s role model, Mahatma Gandhi. Whereas today we are taught that there was an inevitability to the Civil Rights Movement, back in 1962 that was far from obvious. And after tangling with Pritchett, the future of the movement was never more in doubt.

In essence, Laurie Pritchett handed Martin Luther King a series of crushing defeats in Albany and set back the cause of black civil rights by a couple years. And it could have been much longer than that had white law enforcement taken Pritchett’s lead rather than that of Bull Connor.

Following the initial dust-ups with SNCC, King and thousands of volunteers came to town with the idea of marching in the street and “dramatizing the mistreatment of Negroes in Albany.” What they wanted was for Pritchett to take the bait and start busting heads, thereby giving journalists and photographers ample opportunity to demonize white authority and making black resistance seem saintly in comparison. Pritchett however had no intention of playing ball. He instructed his men to approach the marchers politely and to gently arrest them—not for breaking segregation laws but for disturbing the peace and for unlawful assembly. This move took a crucial piece of King’s off the board: the power to appeal. Legal appeals had settled the Montgomery bus boycott in November 1956 when the Supreme Court ruled racial segregation on buses unconstitutional. None of that was going to happen in Albany.

Another trick Pritchett had up his sleeve was a counter-punch to the Gandhian tactic of filling up jails. If you saturate the system with prisoners, the theory goes, eventually the system will lose its ability to arrest protesters and be helpless as they stomp all over the law. Well, prior to King’s arrival, Pritchett had a plan to prevent that from happening. Pritchett himself described his actions thusly:

I had made arrangements, and we had it on a map — Lee County, which was ten miles, and then we’d go out twenty-five miles, go out fifty miles, a hundred miles — all these places agreed to take the prisoners. So we had buses. When we would book and fingerprint, photograph, they would come right out and enter the buses and be taken to some other jail. We sent personnel along to see that they were not mistreated . . . stayed with ’em in the jails to see that nobody in the other counties mistreated or mishandled ’em . . . I think this is one thing that Dr. King was surprised at. This did away with method of overextending the facilities.

Indeed, one volunteer admitted later that “[w]e were naive enough to think that we could fill up the jails. Pritchett was hep to the fact that we couldn’t. We ran out of people before he ran out of jails.”

Pritchett also made the audacious move of releasing King and his immediate circle from jail, not once but twice. As the story goes, an “unknown black man” showed up and paid King’s fine in cash. Of course, Pritchett had secretly arranged for this, but at the time no one knew who this mysterious benefactor was, and Pritchett sure as heck wasn’t saying. Pritchett understood well that a Civil Rights celebrity like Martin Luther King, Jr. suffering in quiet dignity in prison would only engender sympathy for him in the press. By letting him walk so soon after his arrests while keeping the other protesters incarcerated, Pritchett not only prevented King from playing the victim card, but he also sowed discord among other civil rights activists who suspected it was King himself who had this mysterious black man set him free. This truly befuddled King and prompted his lieutenant Ralph Abernathy to lament, “I’ve been thrown out of a lot of places in my day but never before have I been thrown out of jail.”

In a similar vein, Pritchett afforded King and his circle extra care while in custody. This angered a lot of people, especially whites, who complained about black prisoners receiving better treatment than white ones. Pritchett responded that he couldn’t afford to have anything happen to King on his watch, or else “the fires would never cease.” In chess, we would call this a prophylactic measure, like making sure a knight cannot poke its way onto your second rank before moving against your opponent. It was a shrewd, almost cruel, move against King, again limiting his means to resist.

Most importantly, Laurie Pritchett was determined to meet non-violence with non-violence, another perspicacious strategy. In all cases, he made sure that his men acted firmly, but in a disciplined and peaceful manner (at least while the cameras were rolling). In fact, at one point Pritchett actually joined the protesters in prayer before locking them up! This tactic was devastating to the Civil Rights Movement because it made whites look like the good guys and the blacks like a bunch of rabble-rousers. Late in the Albany campaign, a large number of blacks rioted in response to the mistreatment of a woman bringing food to prisoners. They were extremely violent and hurled rocks, bricks, and beer bottles at police. And what did the police do in response? They kept their cool and cleared the streets without once resorting to violence.

Later, Pritchett must have felt quite satisfied when he asked reporters if they saw “them non-violent rocks.” Attorney general Bobby Kennedy even called Pritchett and congratulated him on keeping the peace. All King could do in the aftermath was lamely call for “a day of penance and a moratorium on protests.” After the dust had cleared, Pritchett couldn’t have declared victory more succinctly than when he proudly proclaimed that Albany was “as segregated as ever.”

Although the whites won that particular battle, they ultimately lost the war of civil rights. If anything, King learned not to wrangle with sophisticated law enforcement figures like Pritchett and instead take on more rough and ready predictable types like Connor and Clark. These two, although they compared notes with Pritchett, preferred more brute force methods, not realizing that attack dogs and fire hoses were exactly the things that would shift public opinion in King’s favor. Had they emulated the affable restraint and firm professionalism of Laurie Pritchett, who knows if the Civil Rights Movement would have ever recovered?

As inspiring as Laurie Pritchett’s story is, I realize that much of it is not terribly relevant today. Race relations between black and white are not what they used to be, with blacks becoming more violent, hateful, and racist, and with whites ceding much of their mainstream culture to them. Indeed, whites have grown positively timid in the face of black demands to the point of self-policing whites who still believe in race differences or oppose the anti-white practices of our major institutions. So, emulating the tactics Laurie Pritchett today would do little to pick up lost ground. We’re currently fighting a much more uphill today than in 1962. In some ways, given how affirmative action has caused much of our leadership to become black, it seems that the tables have almost completely been turned.

However, if there is one thing we can emulate about Laurie Pritchett today, it’s his racial self-confidence. He was so confident about enforcing segregation, he didn’t think he needed to resort to violence or intimidation. He knew he was right. He didn’t have to prove it to anybody. In fact, he used an interesting word to describe those who did: “opportunists.” He referred to Bull Connor and Jim Clark as opportunists, men who wanted to project themselves as “the great white leader and impress the people.”

I think Laurie Pritchett felt that it was impressive enough to enforce the laws on the books without much hoopla and with maximum civility. And I have a feeling that Martin Luther King, Jr. felt this way too.

Isn’t it ironic that of all his adversaries throughout the Civil Rights Movement, the one who gave King the most trouble, the one who checkmated him in Albany was one about whom King had positive things to say? In a speech, King said, “I sincerely believe that Chief Pritchett is a nice man, a basically decent man.” An incredible anecdote from this time reveals the respect King had for Pritchett. Once, during a conference in his office with King and his people, Pritchett received a telegram. As he described it:

I read and must have shown some concern over because Dr. King asked me if it was bad news. I said, “No, it’s not bad news, Dr. King. It just so happens that this is my twelfth weddin’ anniversary, and my wife has sent me a telegram.” And he says — I never will forget this and this shows the understandin’ which we had — he said, “You mean this is your anniversary?” And I said, “That’s right,” and I said, “I haven’t been home in at least three weeks.” And he said, “Well, Chief Pritchett, you go home tonight, no, right now. You celebrate your anniversary. I give you my word that nothing will happen in Albany, Georgia, till tomorrow, and you can go, take your wife out to dinner, do anything you want to do, and tomorrow at ten o’clock, we’ll resume our efforts.”

Can any of us imagine something like this happening today? Would an Al Sharpton or any of the Black Lives Matter crowd ever offer such a truce to a Sheriff Arpaio just to let the poor man have some quality time with his wife? No, of course they wouldn’t! They would rather extend that three weeks into thirty hoping that Arpaio dies of a heart attack before they would call for a ceasefire. And these blacks know less poverty and less oppression than the blacks of King’s day. They have less reason to gripe against white people, and yet, spoiled children that they are, they gripe more. That’s how nasty and petulant black activists have gotten these days when you stand in their way. Or even if you don’t stand in their way. They didn’t have knockout games and astronomical rates of crime in 1962, but they do today. And why?

Because blacks always follow whites in their thinking.

Whites lost their racial self-confidence some time during the Civil Rights Movement, and as a result blacks lost all respect for us. It’s as simple as that. But once upon a time, black people did respect whites. That was when we had our racial confidence, back when we were being led by clear-thinking and fearless men like Laurie Pritchett. And if it happened in the past, then we all know quite well it could happen again the future.

Author’s Note:

I first leaned about Laurie Pritchett in college while watching a Civil Rights documentary called Eyes on the Prize. I believe it was this one [2], starting at 4:15. It contains an interview with Pritchett from perhaps the late 1970s as well as some footage of him dealing with protesters in 1962. At the time, I was struck immediately with the simplicity and elegance of his methods and also with the matter-of-fact way in which he described them. I was a default anti-white liberal at the time, so I was shocked that anyone who opposed the Civil Rights movement could be so clear-minded.

Years later, I was reminded of the Albany victory in Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom’s probing America in Black and White from 1997They dedicated only a page and half to Pritchett, but summarized his chapter in the Civil Rights Movement so well that the story stuck with me throughout my adulthood. For this article, I used the Thernstrom volume as a source as well as My Soul Is Rested: Movement Days in the Deep South Remembered by Howell Raines (1977), Freedom Bound: A History of America’s Civil Rights Movement by Robert Weisbrot (1989), Parting the Waters: America in the King Years by Taylor Branch (1988), and the Laurie Pritchett entry [3] in Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Encyclopedia online.

As for Laurie Pritchett himself, little else is known publicly as far as I can tell. He was born in 1926 and died in 2000. According to his all-too-brief Wiki page [4], “[h]e attended Auburn University and South Georgia College. He was an Army veteran and graduated from the National Academy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Southern Police Institute at the University of Louisville.” After leaving Albany, he became the chief of police in High Point, North Carolina. He retired in 1975.

Perhaps someone reading this has access to Albany and can uncover more information about this interesting and important figure. Perhaps relatives, friends, neighbors, or colleagues still living in Albany can help shed some light on him. In any case, Laurie Pritchett should be remembered as a stalwart white man who stood up to the forced and unnatural integration of the races with impeccable class and came out a winner.