Both Charles and Shirley Sherrod will discuss their efforts to end segregation in southwest Georgia and to fight the racial and gender discrimination of federal agencies such as the USDA. The overall panel will be chaired by Assistant Professor of Political Science Sarita McCoy Gregory and Associate Professor of Art Lisa Collins, and is part of a series of Vassar events marking fifty years since the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC.
ABOUT SHIRLEY SHERROD
The unprosecuted murder of Shirley Sherrod’s father by a white farmer when she was 17 was a turning point in her life and led the Georgia native to stay in the South to bring about change. She studied sociology at Albany State College in Georgia and there met her eventual husband, Charles Sherrod, while working for civil rights with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
During the 1960s, Sherrod and her husband helped to form a land trust and collective farm in southwest Georgia called New Communities Inc., which became a model for housing and community development that provided African American farmers the opportunity to farm land securely and affordably. The project encountered opposition from area white farmers and from segregationist Democratic Governor Lester Maddox, and this opposition, along with drought in the 1970s, led to the project’s ultimate demise.
Sherrod went on to work with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, to help black farmers keep their land, and to serve on the board of the Rural Development Leadership Network. In 2009 she accepted a position with the USDA as the Georgia State Director of Rural Development, becoming the first black person to hold that position. In July 2010, Sherrod was forced to resign from her USDA position after conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted video excerpts on his website of a Sherrod speaking at an NAACP event. According to Breitbart, her comments showed how a federally appointed executive racially discriminated against a white farmer. The video set off a storm of controversy and criticism of Sherrod.
Subsequent events showed that her posted comments were taken out of context and were part of broader comments that conveyed a completely different meaning. The NAACP went on to apologize to her, as did the USDA, which offered her another job that she declined.
ABOUT CHARLES SHERROD
Born to extreme poverty in Virginia, Charles Sherrod worked his way through Virginia Union College, receiving a B.A. and a Bachelor’s of Divinity degree. He joined SNCC in 1960, participating in the organization’s first demonstrations and voter registration drives. In October 1961, Sherrod became the first field secretary and SNCC director of southwest Georgia. He and others opened a SNCC office near the all-black Albany State College and soon became instrumental in organizing the Albany Movement to challenge segregation in that city.
Sherrod left SNCC in 1967, when it changed direction and began embracing the philosophy of black power and expelling white members. After receiving his Master’s in Sacred Theology degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, Sherrod returned to Albany, formed the Southwest Georgia Independent Voters Project, and began the agricultural cooperative New Communities, Inc. with wife Shirley Sherrod.
In 1976, Sherrod was elected to the Albany City Council, serving until 1990. In 1996, he ran unsuccessfully for the Georgia State Senate, his last attempt at political office. Sherrod continues to live in Albany, where he is a professor of the history of the civil rights movement at Albany State University, a school that he had once banned him for recruiting college students into civil rights protests.
ABOUT SARITA MCCOY GREGORY
Sarita McCoy Gregory is an assistant professor of political science at Vassar College. Gregory is completing the book Improvising Politics: Citizen Engagement in an Age of Democratic Disappointment, which proposes improvisation as a post-deliberative mechanism for democratic engagement and decision-making. Her academic specialties include the study of race and American political thought, ideology in political theory, African American political thought, and education and democratic theory. Gregory earned a B.S. in political science with honors from Tuskegee University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago.
Before joining the Vassar faculty in 2007, Gregory was for two years a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Political Science at Macalester College, in Saint Paul, MN, as part of the Consortium for Strong Minority Presence program (CSMP).
ABOUT LISA COLLINS
Lisa Gail Collins, who joined the Vassar College faculty in 1998, teaches courses on African American visual art and material culture, interdisciplinary African American history, feminist thought, and twentieth-century social and cultural movements in the United States. She received her B.A. in Art History from Dartmouth College and her Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Minnesota. Ms. Collins is author of The Art of History: African American Women Artists Engage the Past (Rutgers University Press, 2002) and Art by African-American Artists: Selections from the 20th Century (Metropolitan Museum of Art, in association with Yale University Press, 2003). She is coauthor of African-American Artists, 1929-1945: Prints, Drawings, and Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Metropolitan Museum of Art, in association with Yale University Press, 2003) and coeditor, with Margo Natalie Crawford, of New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement (Rutgers University Press, 2006). She served as associate editor for the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, 2nd. edition, (Macmillan Reference, 2005). Her state-of-the-field essay "Arts, Artifacts, and African Americans: Context and Criticism" is part of the The New York Public Library's Schomburg Studies on the Black Experience (ProQuest, 2007), and her articles appear in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, International Review of African American Art, Rutgers Art Review, Chicago Art Journal, and Exposure. She has taught at Barnard College and Princeton University and received grants from the Ford, Mellon, and Anyone Can Fly foundations.
This event is sponsored by the Dean of the Faculty Lecture Committee and the Africana Studies Program. Co-sponsors include the Department of Religion’s Wood Lecture Fund, the Department of History’s C. Mildred Thompson Lecture Fund, the Political Science, English, and Sociology departments, and the Women's Studies Program.
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Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.