The Civil Rights Movement & Land Trusts
On October 11, 2022, the nation lost one of our civil rights pioneers, Rev. Charles Sherrod. Rev. Sherrod took part in several civil rights movements, including serving as the first Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) field secretary and SNCC Director for Southwest Georgia and the Albany Movement. Albany, Georgia was the hub for voter engagement in Southwest Georgia. The focus of the Albany Movement was Black voter engagement, desegregation to bus station terminals, and repeal of local segregation ordinances. In the mid-1960’s Rev. Sherrod left SNCC and devoted his efforts to an organization Rev. Sherrod and his wife, Shirley (former Georgia State Director of the United States Department of Rural Development), founded, the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, Inc. (Southwest Georgia Project). The Southwest Georgia Project was formed to empower African Americans in Southwest Georgia. Several programs were initiated to end poverty and hunger, voter mobilization, educational access, and aid to Black Farmers. With Shirley Sherrod at the helm, the Southwest Georgia Project continues to serve the Black community on policy to aid Black farmers against predatory land loss, training, capital, technical assistance, eliminating food apartheid with a focus on the intersection of land, food, and race.
As a native of rural Southwest Georgia, the Sherrod family is very well known in the community. My family was introduced to Rev. Sherrod after the 1968 unjust killing of my cousin Willie J. Nelson, Jr. (Junior Nelson) by a white man in the town of Warwick, Georgia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAz18fs02fY (One More River to Cross: Southwest Georgia Project 1968, Glen Pearcy Production, February 2012). Rev. Sherrod speaks on the plight of Black people in Southwest Georgia in the documentary and the inequities in the justice system for Black people, similar to what we experience in 2022.
In June of 1968, Rev. Sherrod and a delegation traveled to Israel to study the kibbutz system (land trust). After their return, the group convened a meeting in Atlanta with other civil rights agencies to establish homestead leasing and cooperative farming in the South. In 1969, New Communities, Inc. was founded that was the largest Black-Owed farm cooperative (land trust) in the United States. New Communities’ purpose was to advance the civil rights movement to economic justice and rights using agriculture as its foundation. In 1970, New Communities obtained over 2,000 acres of woodland and 3,000 acres of farmland, which was the largest tract of land owned by African Americans.
Despite the unprecedented success of New Communities, it was not without obstacles. Then Governor Lester Maddox, hindered the receipt of funding. Also, New Communities experienced discriminatory lending from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Farmers Home Administration. Unfortunately, the land was lost in the 1980’s. Nevertheless, New Communities remained steadfast and subsequently, was awarded a $12 million dollar settlement stemming from USDA’s discriminatory loan practices. In 2011, New Communities purchased 1600 acres, called Cypress Pond (SNCCdigital.org, 1969 New Communities Formed in Southwest, Georgia, 2012). Thus, continuing the efforts of land ownership and economic and agricultural justice.
Through the pioneering work of Rev. Charles Sherrod, there are now hundreds of land trusts throughout the nation, including Georgia. We salute Rev. Charles Sherrod.
Dr. Bambie Hayes-Brown is the President and CEO of Georgia Advancing Communities Together, Inc. and has lived experience of housing insecurity. For more information on Georgia ACT, visit www.georgiaact.org. Save the Date: Georgia ACT Annual Housing Day at the Capitol, February 22, 2023, Atlanta, Georgia