As remembered by Clennon L. King
October 11, 2022
Rev. Charles Melvin Sherrod, Civil Rights Leader Who Brought The Fight for Civil Rights To Segregated Southwest Georgia, Kickstarted the Albany Movement, Dies at 85
Rev. Charles Melvin Sherrod, whose grassroots organizing of unregistered Black voters sent shock waves through the segregated South, and kickstarted the Albany Movement, has died. He was 85.
"He was a great husband, a great father and great servant to his community," said his wife of 56 years, Shirley Miller Sherrod. "His life serves as a shining example of service to one's fellow man."
Sherrod played a transformative role in Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s, co-founding SNCC, and inspiring Blacks in Southwest Georgia to straighten their backs and stand up for their rights.
Born January 2, 1937, in rural Surry, Virginia, Sherrod moved with his grandmother and siblings to nearby Petersburg where he became president of his high school student body. He earned both his undergraduate and divinity degree at Virginia Union University in Richmond before engaging in sit ins at segregated churches and department store lunch counters.
In April 1960, he traveled to Shaw University in Raleigh where he co-founded with others the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The following February, the organization dispatched he and three others SNCC workers to Rock Hill, South Carolina where he chose jail over bail and spent 30 days on the chain gang. It was a strategy he would employ again and again throughout his civil rights career.
In October 1961, Sherrod, headed to Albany as SNCC's first field secretary to help register Blacks to vote. His mastery at organizing mass meetings and empowering Black youth to stand up for their rights, mobilized parents and the status-quo to get off the sidelines. The result was The Albany Movement that garnered national and international attention and attracted scores of demonstrators, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
His civil rights work was not restricted to Albany. He helped bus demonstrators from Southwest Georgia to the 1963 March on Washington and ensured strong attendance in support of the Mississippi Freedom Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Meanwhile back in Southwest Georgia, Sherrod remained fully invested, spearheading voter registration efforts in surrounding counties, including the racially hostile Baker County. In the summer of 1965, he met the love of his life, Shirley Miller, the daughter of a Black farmer gunned down in his own pasture, by a white farmer whom an all-white jury refused to indict for his murder.
After completing his master's in divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 1966, Sherrod broke ranks with SNCC over its ouster of whites. He co-founded alternatively the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, continuing with his wife their voter registration work.
In July 1968, Sherrod traveled to Israel with seven others to explore the idea of creating a community-held farm to serve as a safe haven for Black farmers thrown off their land during the Movement. Ultimately serving as the leader, Sherrod took the reins, secured the needed capital and acquired the 5735-acre New Communities, Inc. in neighboring Lee County.
From 1969 to 1985, he served at the helm of what became the nation's largest Black-owned farm and first community land trust. That is, until drought and discriminatory loan practices brought about its loss.
Still, Sherrod stayed the course. He served as one of Albany's first Black city commissioners from 1976 to 1990, ran unsuccessfully for a state senator in 1996, taught on faculty at Albany State University and served as chaplain at the Georgia State Prison in Homerville.
However, he never allowed himself to forget about the loss of New Communities. In 1999, acting on behalf of the nonprofit, he and Shirley joined other Black farmers in a class action lawsuit, suing the United States Department of Agriculture with discriminatory loan practices. What they recovered in an out- of-court settlement cleared the way for the nonprofit to acquire the 1638-acre Cypress Pond plantation near Albany. This former antebellum plantation where the enslaved toiled now managed by descendants of the enslaved serve as a legacy to him.
In addition to his wife Shirley, Sherrod is survived by two adult children, Russia Sherrod of Albany, Georgia, and Kenyatta (Mikhiela) Sherrod of Marietta, Georgia, and five granddaughters, Kourtney (Charles, III) Sherrod Corbin of Auburn, AL, Mia Sherrod of Dallas, TX, Kiera Sherrod of Marietta, Simone Sherrod of Marietta and Khloe Sherrod of Albany, GA.
Predeceased by his maternal grandmother Ida Walker, parents Martha Mae Gipson and Raymond Sherrod and brother Altha Gipson, Charles is survived by siblings Ricardo "Dump" (Doris) Sherrod of Fort Washington, MD, Roland Leon (Alet) Sherrod of Richmond, Sheilda Sherrod Fobbs of Richmond and Michael Gipson of Richmond.
He is also survived by his mother-in-law, Grace Miller of Baker County, Ga, and in-laws Nannie (Paul) Jones of Cincinnati, Oh, Sandra (Melvin) Jones of Albany, Rubertha Hall of Salt Lake City, Utah, Debra Walker of Atlanta, and Hosea (Haley) Miller, Jr. of Leesburg. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that tax-deductible donations in Rev. Sherrod's name be made to The Charles Sherrod Community Development Corporation. Gifts can be mailed to the following address: C/O The Sherrod Institute, 1216 Dawson Rd # 108, Albany, GA 31707.
As remembered by Constancia
October 11, 2022
And the passings continue, as they must, in the cycle of life. We carry those who've gone on our shoulders, and hold close those still among us. Sherrod was an essential part of my life.
As remembered by Penny
October 11, 2022
Ah Dinky, Sherrod was an essential part of my life too. It was he who opened the space for a white woman to come to Albany, GA. An experiment to be sure. A guide and mentor for me always.
My heart goes out to all of us.
As remembered by Larry
October 12, 2022
He was my mentor, my leader, my hero. His passing is a great loss to the Freedom Movement and to the nation. He was humble and self-effacing, but It's a blessing that he lived long enough to feel appreciated by the Albany community, which erected a beautiful water monument to his service.
As remembered by William Minter
October 12, 2022
I haven't seen him in person since the summer of 1965 when I was one of the group that followed Sherrod from Union Seminary to Southwest Georgia for that summer. But my memories and respect for him are still alive and have been nurtured by indirect contacts over the years through mutual friends. One of the most respected of civil rights leaders by all who knew him, although he didn't have the national profile of many other leaders of that era.
From Maria Varela
October 12, 2022
Here is a message from Mily Trevino-Sauceda, RDLN graduate (Group 5) and Board member, and executive director of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas:
My deepest condolences to Shirley and her family! Charles will be remembered always because his spirit will continue among us RDLN familia! Charles left many positive footprints with us.... It is with great respect and admiration that I share it has been an honor to have met and known Charles. He did so much in this life that he will continue guiding and protecting Shirley and her family.
I send much strength and a big hug to Shirley.
As remembered by Penny
October 13, 2022
Charles Sherrod, our SW Georgia SNCC project director, founder of New Communities and so much more.
For me a mentor, a teacher, a SNCC comrade, a friend. It was Sherrod who in 1962 proposed inviting some young white people to join the young Black people already working on SNCC's SW GA project. His motivation was both moral and pragmatic. I think a lot of SNCC folk thought he was crazy, but he, Cordell Reagan and others went forward. Several young white guys showed up and one white girl (me, age 18). We were quite the experiment, and the path of my life was transformed.
One of my more recent memories is traveling around the rural communities surrounding Albany in 2018, guided by Shirley Sherrod, as she and others lifted up past and current organizing work. Sherrod was already not well, and speaking publicly was difficult, but in Dawson, GA when Shirley whispered in his ear he began to sing. "Oh Freedom, Oh Freedom, Oh Freedom over me. And before I'll be a slave I'll be buried in my grave and go home to my lord and be free."
That was and is his song. So many of our hearts are hurting. Fly free Charles Sherrod.
As remembered by Joyce
October 13, 2022
Bernard [Lafayette] will preach a good sermon-obituary that Sherrod would have liked. Martha, Jean and I spent some time working with him in Albany in the summer, 1963. We had early morning devotional every day. He and Prathia prayed. I remember when we took sanctuary in the church to stop the police arrests and harassment. John Churchville was a good pianist. We overstayed our welcome when the church folks learned he played jazz in the house of worship. Jean and Martha went to Greenwood and I went to New York where Courtland and I worked on the March on Washington.
As remembered by Miriam
October 16, 2022
I, a 21 year old white woman, was a volunteer in the Southwest GA project which Sherrod lead the summer of "63. I didn't realize then that I was part of Sherrod's experiment. He was discouraged by the lack of progress in improving life for the black community. He decided to think outside the box and allow whites to come be part of his project. It wasn't until 50 or so years later, at a reunion, that Sherrod spelled out this decision.
Sherrod explained that in 1963 he didn't know any blacks that had grandfathers or uncles with trust funds. That a black person beaten or murdered in the South would not make national news. That he knew of no blacks who could pick up their phone and speak directly to their Senator or Congressperson. But he knew things were different for some white people. So he wanted to see if having whites working on his project could help make changes in the South.
Thanks to Sherrod's initiative and courage I was able to be part of the SW Georgia project that summer of '63.
As remembered by Peggy
Trotter Dammond Preacely
October 17, 2022
Please accept this tribute to Sherrod who recruited me from Harlem to Lee County Georgia in 1962 — a summer that changed my life forever.
Sherrod! Our spirit leader
Listened with his whole self
Caressed the soil
Harnessed the earth
Canvassed the backroads
Permitted the mistakes
Recognized the reluctant
Lifted up the fearful
Gathered a New Tribe
Envisioned The Beloved Community
Shared the victories
Recognized the defeats
Preached into the voids
A Soulful soldier
With a shy smile and a full laugh
Sang with head to the sky
And hand to the plow
Witnessed way too much
Never lost sight of the prize
Listened to all
Never left his post
Persisted beyond the parameters
Pondered all ideas
Insisted upon mutual respect
Modeled how to live
Became a reluctant hero
Praised the Almighty
Ordered his steps
Offered his life.
A tribute poem to my friend and Colleague Charles Sherrod. I was a SNCC Field Worker and Literacy Teacher in the Southwest Georgia Voter Registration Campaign Summer of 1962
As remembered by Emma Dixon
October 28, 2022
As we celebrate the life of Charles Sherrod and honor the memory of his service to our beloved black community, we recognize the lyrics of our song of faith and hope. A Change is Gonna Come, is a rallying song to Charles Sherrod and others who fought the great fight for equality, civil rights and most significantly our precious Voting Rights.
Our democracy is better and greater because of heroes and soldiers like Charles Sherrod. My life has been impacted by meeting Mr. Sherrod and his lovely wife Shirley a heroine in her own right. Thank you RDLN for this opportunity. May God continue to Bless the Sherrod family.
RDLN Leader (Group 8)
President Bogalusa AARP
*Vice President, Dr. A.Z. Young Foundation
*Asst. Vice President, SE LA Legal Services