Rev Charles Sherrod in front of the civil rights park in Albany Georgia.
|Alma mater||Union Theological Seminary|
Charles Sherrod (born 1937) was born in Surry, Virginia and was raised by his Baptist grandmother. When he was a young boy he sang in a choir and attended Sunday school at a Baptist church. When he was older he became a preacher at Mount Olivet Baptist Church where he often preached to children. Sherrod is not only a preacher, but an activist. Charles Sherrod first took part in the Civil Rights Movement after the Supreme Court desegregated schools in the Brown v. Board of Education case. In 1954, Sherrod first participated in sit-ins at white churches with the goal to desegregate them. He was a key member and organizer of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the Civil Rights Movement. He became the first SNCC field secretary and SNCC director of southwest Georgia. His leadership there led to the Albany Movement. He also participated in the Selma Voting Rights Movement and in many other arenas of the 1960s movement era. However, Sherrod's activism continued throughout his life through the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education (SWGAP), New Communities, and as an Albany City Council Member. He is married to former U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod (married in 1966), who assisted with the Albany Movement and with SWGAP. Together they had two children.
A supporter of racial integration, he recruited white as well as black members to assist with voter registration efforts. In 1966, he left the SNCC after its recently elected chairman Stokely Carmichael expelled white members. He moved north, to New York City, where he received his master's degree in sacred theology from the Union Theological Seminary. He then returned home to direct the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education with Shirley Sherrod. In 1969, Sherrod, his wife Shirley, and some other members of the Albany Movement helped pioneer the land trust movement in the U.S., co-founding New Communities, a collective farm in Southwest Georgia modeled on kibbutzim in Israel. He later served as an elected member of the Albany City Council from 1976 to 1990. In his more recent years Charles Sherrod is known as a former chaplain at the Georgia State Prison in Homerville, and as a former teacher at Albany State University.
Sherrod joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1961, when it was recruiting new students to join in Rock Hill, South Carolina. During this time Sherrod was at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia. He was offered a job as a teacher but turned it down so he could be a part of SNCC in Rock Hill, South Carolina. In 1961 he was among one of four students, along with Diane Nash, J. Charles Jones, and Ruby Doris Smith, to drop out of college to become a full-time civil rights activists and members of SNCC. When the four students arrived in Rock Hill, they almost immediately engaged in sit-ins to fight back against segregation. After only one day in Rock Hill all four of the college students were arrested because of a sit-in they participated in, at a local diner. Like many activists, the students at the time chose jail with bail in an attempt to overcrowd the jails. They were sentenced to 30 days hard labor, however, Charles Sherrod did not take bail. Charles Sherrod was one of the first to practice the "jail- no bail" strategy. This was where after being jailed rather than taking bail, one would stay the full 30-day sentence in order to bring attention and dramatize the injustice that was taking place. When Sherrod was released from jail he became a contributing member of SNCC and was often referred to as one of its founding fathers. By working his way up in the SNCC organization, he was named the director and field secretary of Southwest Georgia. Sherrod's strategy was to focus on the small town of Albany, Georgia as the hub for voter registration activity for the surrounding farm country. Sherrod left SNCC at the end of 1966 because of the head of SNCC, Stokely Carmichael, planned to exclude whites from the organization. Sherrod did not agree with this policy, and decided to put his efforts towards the Southwest Georgia Project (SWGAP). During Sherrod's time working with SNCC he received many death threats from white southerns.These kinds of actions happened on a daily basis, and during SNCC's 50th anniversary Sherrod stated "So we had to continually, day by day, deal with fear".
Charles Sherrod participated in the Selma Voting Rights Movement along with other activists like John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. The Selma Voting Rights Movement was a march from Selma to the capitol of Alabama, Montgomery, in the fight to get voting rights for African Americans in March 1965. The Movement included a 54-mile march, which resulted in Selma's "Bloody Sunday", and getting African Americans to register to vote. The 54-mile march lasted five days and included about 600 participants. The march was made up of members from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Student nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and other community members. The percentage of African Americans who were voting was low, about 2%, and the goal of the march was to help and encourage more to register to vote. The marchers had to get permission from government officials to be able to march, it was approved. When the large group of marchers arrived at Montgomery they were forcefully met by Police and State Troopers, some on horseback, who order them to disperse. They refused to disperse, so the troopers unleashed tear gas and forcefully beat many of the nonviolent marchers, this is known as Selma's "Bloody Sunday". The tear gas made it hard to breathe, see and was painful. This was combined with being struck by clubs from cops and State Troopers on horseback and caused bleeding and injury. Due to the number of injuries from the event nearby churches were turned into makeshift hospitals.
Rather than returning to school in the fall, Charles Sherrod moved to become a full-time organizer to stimulate new black initiatives in the strongly segregated and Ku Klux Klan-dominated communities in Albany, Georgia. Sherrod was later joined by fellow SNCC worker, Cordell Reagon in October 1961. Sherrod helped organize the Albany Movement by planning sit-ins and jail-ins. Sherrod's main goal was fighting for voter's registration rights. He also campaigned for desegregation, particularly an end to segregated terminals at bus stations and interstate travel. Before Sherrod officially initiated the Albany Movement, his earlier battles in the civil rights movement took place in the streets of Albany where he fought for voter's registration rights alongside Cordell Reagon. Sherrod was 22 at the time and Reagon was 18, both being prominent activists in SNCC. During their time together as SNCC leaders they held many learning sessions on how to engage in nonviolent strategies for Albany students in anticipation of major conflict with the police.
The Albany Movement lead by Charles Sherrod in Albany, Georgia was from October 1961 to 1964. The Albany Movement was a series of boycotts, marches, sit-ins and other events focused on desegregating the town of Albany and gaining voting rights for black citizens. The movement was built off nonviolent methods Charles Sherrod learned from Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. The movement was composed of students from Albany colleges and high schools in the town. Students and Sherrod were jailed in the process of the movement and used the jail-no bail method, and 32 college students were expelled from Albany State University. Sherrod recalls that "More than 500 students staged sit-ins and were arrested, jailed and beaten," during the movement. While in jail the students would pass the time and keep their spirits high by singing civil rights songs, similar to the ones John Lewis sang.
In 1964 Charles Sherrod and the students in the Albany Movement achieved their goal, the city of Albany repealed all segregation ordinances. The students who were expelled by Albany State University received honorary BA's 50 years after their expulsion in December 2011.
After Leaving SNCC, Sherrod and his wife Shirley Sherrod started taking part in the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education (SWGAP). The work done in Albany helped ease the movement into 15 different counties throughout southwest Georgia. Charles then started recruiting many students from his former college where he received his master's degree, the Union Theological Seminary, to assist in the project. The mission of SWGAP is to educate, engage and empower communities in southwest Georgia. Charles Sherrod wanted to continue his passion for nonviolence and advocating for desegregation and civil rights. This project has three main focuses: food, farms, and human rights (this is in conjunction with New Communities and land trusts). The goal of the food program is to address the accessibility of food, lack of food and the community aspect of food. This goes along with the farming program, which was meant to increase opportunities for family farms and under-served farms in the southwest Georgia area. Since Charles Sherrod is first and foremost an activist, another main focus of SWGAP is human rights for all. Charles Sherrod's proposed outcome for strengthening food accessibility, increasing farming opportunities and human rights for all was to increase food security, strengthen economics (due to food security) and inter-generational transfer of farmland. Today SWGAP is still active and holds the same ideals. They are still under the guidance of Shirley and Charles Sherrod in striving to better communities and human rights.