I lost my husband of 56 years two weeks ago. And while I am appreciative of the countless condolences received, the best way to pay tribute is to make it to the polls this election.
Sherrod — as I called him — came to southwest Georgia for that very reason in the fall of 1961. He was dispatched by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, not to sit-in at lunch counters or desegregate train and bus station waiting rooms, but to expressly fight voter suppression on behalf of Black people head on. And he did.
As SNCC's first field secretary, he and others put their lives on the line to end the near 100-year reign of white supremacy, lynching and segregation that brought Reconstruction to a screeching halt and barred us from the polls.
He asked God to take the fear that came with facing the full fury of Jim Crow, and zeroed in on rural Terrell County, near Albany. Like much of Georgia's Black Belt, Terrible Terrell's population was overwhelmingly Black, while its officeholders were all white.
Confronted by the segregationist sheriff, Sherrod fearlessly told Zeke Matthews who he was and why he had come. And for that, he paid a heavy price. White nightriders riddled bullets into the home of voting rights ally and local Black beautician Carolyn Daniels, which served as a safe haven for voting rights organizers.
Law enforcement stormed area Black churches where Sherrod rallied for voting rights, before three sanctuaries in Lee and Terrell Counties were burned to the ground. And when SNCC's battle front moved in earnest to Dougherty County, where Sherrod kickstarted the Albany Movement, casualties stemmed from that campaign as well.
At Camilla, where teenage demonstrators were jailed, police shoved the pregnant wife of the Movement's president, causing Marion King to lose her balance and her baby.
In downtown Albany that same week, Dougherty County's sheriff split open the scalp of Attorney C. B. King, in his attempt to visit a jailed white demonstrator who had been beaten behind bars.
And in Baker County, where months before a white farmer walked away after gunning down my father in his own pasture, whites nearly beat Sherrod to death in the shadow of the courthouse for the crime of organizing the Black vote.
In short, I think we, Black southwest Georgians, owe to people like Carolyn, C. B., Marion, and Sherrod who suffered and sacrificed, and, in the case of Marion's baby, died for your right to vote.
As freedom fighters, they watered the tree of liberty with their blood for us and gave their lives to make safe the futures of our great, great, great grandchildren who we will never meet.
So, let's not add insult to the injuries they endured.
Let's make time, help bring each another to the polls and vote like our lives depend on it. Because, as history makes crystal clear, they do.
Copyright © Shirley Sherrod, 2022
See Georgia Movement
Resources for background & more information.
See also Albany, Americus, & SW Georgia Freedom Movements 1961-1964 for web links.
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