The Rev. Charles Sherrod, who served as the first field secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was a transformative leader during the Civil Rights Movement, has passed away, reports the Washington Post. He was 85.
His wife of 56 years, Shirley Miller Sherrod said the cause of his passing was lung cancer.
“He was a great husband, a great father, and a great servant to his community,” she said. “His life serves as a shining example of service to one’s fellow man.”
Charles Melvin Sherrod was born in Surry, Virginia, on January 2, 1937. He and his siblings were raised by his grandmother, a devout Baptist. He grew up singing in the choir, attending Sunday school
In 1958, he earned a sociology degree from Virginia Union University, and in 1961, he received a Master’s of divinity from the university’s theology school (now known as the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology).
In 1960, he traveled to Shaw University in North Carolina for a civil rights conference that led to the creation of SNCC. Turning down a teaching career at Virginia Union, he chose instead to work for SNCC full-time, offering to “go anywhere. "Ella Baker, one of the organization’s senior leaders and an unsung hero of the Freedom Movement, sent him to Albany.
Speaking with the Library of Congress, Sherrod expressed how it felt to be on the front lines of the movement.
“It was just a great joy,” Sherrod said, “to find the same old people, bent over, talking with their heads down, were now talking with their heads up, and speaking to white people without fear, and demonstrating, going in the store and taking, trying on a hat, and picketing stores who would not change in their morals.”
Because of the work of Sherrod and other committed activists, the Albany Movement drew national attention. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Albany in the winter of 1961 to assist in the organizing and to put a spotlight on SNCC's desegregation efforts.
Sherrod believed that building a coalition with rural Southern Black people and white people was the path to create change. As the social tension of the 1960s heightened, the majority of S.N.C.C. disagreed with Sherrod’s philosophy. He left in 1966 after its central committee rejected his plan to invite white students to work in Albany.
“I didn’t leave S.N.C.C.; S.N.C.C. left me,” he said.
The same year, he graduated from Union Theological Seminary with a Masters's degree in Sacred Theology.
After returning from Isreal where he studied collective farming in 1968, he and his wife purchased 5,735 acres of land near Albany. They named the site New Communities; it was the largest Black-owned farm cooperative in the country.
Always dedicated to Albany, Sherrod went on to serve in the city's government. He was on the faculty at Albany State and worked as a chaplain in a nearby prison.
In 2011, the Sherrods won a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture for loan discrimination. With the proceeds from the settlement, they purchased the 1,638-acre Cypress Pond Plantation near Albany, which they converted into a new cooperative farm they called Resora.
Along with his wife, he is survived by his daughter, Russia Sherrod; his son, Kenyatta; his brothers, Ricardo and Roland Sherrod and Michael Gipson; his sister, Sheilda Fobbs; and five granddaughters.
We at EBONY extend our prayers and deepest condolences to the family and friends of Charles Sherrod.