The Strange Saga of Shirley Sherrod, Part 2: Her Spouse

Charles M. Sherrod, husband of the now-famous Shirley Sherrod, was born in Petersburg, Virginia.   He went to college at Virginia Union University (B.A., 1958, B.D., 1961) and attended Union Theological Seminary in New York, receiving a master’s in sacred theology in 1967. From 1961 to 1967 Sherrod was Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee field secretary in Albany, Georgia.  He also directed the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education (1961-87) and New Communities, Inc., a cooperative farming project, from 1969 to 1985.   He served on Albany City Commission from 1976 to 1990 and in 1996, he ran unsuccessfully for Georgia state senate.  Sherrod currently works as chaplain at Georgia State Prison, Homerville, Georgia.

You may have heard of the SNCC before.

As a prime example of student activism in the 1960s, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, popularly called Snick) was a prime force behind major initiatives in the civil rights movement. At the forefront of integration efforts, SNCC volunteers had the spotlight focused on them for their lunch counter sit-ins at whites-only businesses, and later for being involved in historic demonstrations that helped pave the way for the passage of landmark federal civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965. SNCC made significant gains in voter registration for blacks in the South, where it also ran schools and health clinics.

Charles Sherrod was sent in 1961 with other members of the SNCC to organize the black population in Albany, NY. 

This protest did not receive support from local NAACP  and other civil rights leaders as they saw SNCC as troublemakers.

Albany’s bus center was targeted. The law forbade segregation in interstate travel services; however, segregation still existed and this is what forced the students to protest. Hundreds were arrested. Albany’s city authorities refused to desegregate the bus station despite pressure from the Attorney-General, Robert Kennedy.

Someone in the Albany civil rights movement invited Martin Luther King to join the protest. This angered SNCC who wanted the protest to stay led by locals.

King led one protest march and got arrested.  Charles Sherrod later wrote a paper about his experience in Albany.  Here’s an excerpt:

Charles Sherrod – Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (1961)

The Albany we found in October when we came down as SNCC field workers was quite different from the Albany we now know. Naturally, though, many things remain the same. The swift flowing, cool waters of the Flint River still cut off the east side of the city from the west. The paved streets remind visitors that civilization may be thought to exist in the area while the many dusty, sandy roadways in residential areas cause one to wonder where tax money goes. Beautiful homes against green backgrounds with lawns rolling up and down hills and around corners held up by the deep roots of palm and pine trees untouched by years of nature’s movement, sunny days with moonlit nights–this was the Albany we had been introduced to in October. But this was not the real Albany; the real Albany was seen much later.

Albany is known by its people to be “liberal.” Located in the center of such infamous counties as “Terrible Terrell,” “Dogging Douglas,” “Unmitigated Mitchell,” “Lamentable Lee,” “Unbearable Baker,” and the “Unworthy Worth County.” It stands out as the only metropolitan area of any prominence in Southwest Georgia. It is the crossroads of rural people in villages and towns within a radius of ninety miles. It was principally because of its location that Albany was chosen as the beachhead for Democracy in DEEP Southwest Georgia.

Initially, we met with every obstacle possible. We had come down with the idea of setting up office in Albany and moving on shortly to Terrell County. This idea was short-lived. We found that it would take more time than we thought to present this city of 23,000 Negroes with the idea that freedom is worth sacrifice. . . .

The first obstacle to remove . . . was the mental block in the minds of those who wanted to move but were unable for fear that we were not who we said we were. But when people began to hear us in churches, social meetings, on the streets, in the poolhalls, lunchrooms, nightclubs, and other places where people gather, they began to open up a bit. We would tell them of how it feels to be in prison, what it means to be behind bars, in jail for the cause. We explained to them that we had stopped school because we felt compelled to do so since so many of us were in chains. We explained further that there were worse chains than jail and prison. We referred to the system that imprisons men’s minds and robs them of creativity. We mocked the systems that teaches men to be good Negroes instead of good men. We gave an account of the many resistances of injustice in the courts, in employment, registration, and voting. The people knew that such evils existed but when we pointed them out time and time again and emphasized the need for concerted action against them, the people began to think. At this point, we started to illustrate what had happened in Montgomery, Macon, Nashville, Charlotte, Atlanta, Savannah, Richmond, Petersburg, and many other cities where people came together and protested against an evil
system. . . .

The term “Black Power” came to prominence when Stokely Carmichael became the leader of the organization.  During his leadership, which began in 1966, SNCC started its’ decline as an organization.  

Along with the new rhetoric came new policies.   SNCC kicked out the white members from its organization, declaring that they should work to rid their own communities of racism. When SNCC members began carrying guns, Carmichael explained that his philosophy was different from past leaders:

We are not King or SCLC. They don’t do the kind of work we do nor do they live in the same areas we live in.

The organization subsequently deepened this division by pulling out of the White House Conference on Civil Rights.

By the way, during this turbulent time, Carmichael’s leadership  was supported by his friend and Chicago SNCC and Weather Underground member “Bomber” Bill Ayers.  In 2005, Ayers wrote a paragraph for the inside dust cover of Carmichael’s book, “Road to Revolution”. 

Sherrod stayed for a year after Carmichael became chairman of the SNCC, leaving in 1967.

Interesting side note:  In his book, “Dreams of my Father”, President Barak Hussein Obama wrote about attending a speech by Stokely Carmichael while attending Columbia University:

In search of some inspiration, I went to hear Kwame Toure, formerly Stokely Carmichael of SNCC and Black Power fame, speak at Columbia. At the entrance to the auditorium, two women, one black, one Asian, were selling Marxist literature and arguing with each other about Trotsky’s place in history. Inside, Toure was proposing a program to establish ties between Africa and Harlem that would circumvent white capitalist imperialism. At the end of his remarks, a thin young woman with glasses asked if such a program was practical given the state of African economies and the immediate needs facing black Americans. Toure cut her off midsentence. “It’s only the brainwashing that you’ve received that makes it impractical, sister,” he said. His eyes glowed inward as he spoke, the eyes of a madman or a saint. The woman remained standing for several minutes while she was upbraided for her bourgeois attitudes. People began to file out. Outside the auditorium, the two Marxists were now shouting at the top of their lungs.

“Stalinist pig!”

“Reformist bi#@*!”

It was like a bad dream. I wandered down Broadway, imagining myself standing on the edge of the Lincoln Memorial and looking out over an empty pavilion, debris scattering in the wind. The movement had died years ago, shattered into a thousand fragments. Every path to change was well-trodden, every strategy exhausted. And with each defeat, even those with the best intentions could end up further and further removed from the struggles of those they purported to serve.

Charles Sherrod is now a prison chaplain and probably, at this moment, one of the most famous husbands in America.  I hope that he, like his wife has claimed about herself, has moved beyond any narrow-mindedness of the past. 

Just a thought…the number of “ex” and current radicals associated with this administration is mind-blowing, isn’t it?



4 Responses to “The Strange Saga of Shirley Sherrod, Part 2: Her Spouse”

  1. yoda Says:

    Amazing how pieces to puzzles start coming together by digging for more information. I say, keep digging.

  2. Annie Says:

    I just found your blog and have been going through your puzzle pieces. Thank you!! We need an army of people like you who are digging and uncovering the corruption that is smothering our great country at this point in our history. Keep up the good work and I will continue visiting and look forward to the future installments! Bless you!

  3. Charlotte Says:

    Thank you so much, KJ. I came here to get away from so many other Conservatives/Republicans tripping over themselves to automatically paint Sherrod as some lost victim….

    Too many strange pieces to this story, too much strangeness period to just let it all pass by. Thanks for taking the time for this research.

  4. 2010 in review « Kingsjester's Blog Says:

    […] The Strange Saga of Shirley Sherrod, Part 2: Her Spouse July 2010 3 comments 4 […]

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