Thursday, January 04, 2007

Civil Rights Organizer Joins School That Considered Him A Troublemaker

By Santrice Curry and Ashley R. Harris
Black College Wire

Charles M. Sherrod , who as a civil rights organizer in 1961 was asked by school officials to leave the campus of Georgia's Albany State College, is returning to what is now Albany State University. This time he will be on the faculty.

Starting Jan. 8, Sherrod is to teach "Introduction to the African Diaspora" and United States and Georgia government.

In 1961, Sherrod and Bernice Johnson Reagan, who went on to found the a capella singing ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock, became the face of the civil rights movement in Albany at a time when blacks were still denied access to whites-only public facilities.

They were the vanguard of the Albany Movement, a boycott, sit-in and voter registration drive initiated in Georgia by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC.

Drinking fountains were segregated in the county courthouse in Albany, Ga., in 1962.

In his 1972 book "The Making of Black Revolutionaries," James Forman, who was executive director of SNCC, said that in two weeks' time, almost a thousand local people would go to jail over the right to use the facilities in a bus station.

In February and March of 1961, drunken whites in cars threw eggs, fired shots and once tried to run down a student on the Albany State campus. "The college administration was reluctant to defend the students and, before that semester ended, students staged a protest march on the president's office," Forman wrote.

Sherrod and Reagan, SNCC field secretaries, set up an office to begin registering voters. "At superconservative Albany State College, where they went talking to students, they were called in one day by the dean of students. 'He assured us of his hopes for the better society of our dreams,' Sherrod reported, 'but pointed out the relative value of his JOB.' Shortly afterward, the two SNCC workers were told to leave the campus within fifteen minutes," Forman wrote.

As the civil rights movement progressed, Sherrod traveled throughout Albany and the surrounding counties in southwest Georgia, educating and registering black voters.

He led sit-ins and demonstrations, but found time to receive two master's degrees, one in sociology from Virgina Union University, in Richmond, Va., and another in theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Sherrod said he always had the passion to teach and wanted to teach at Albany State for the last 25 years.

"I want to give students the skills I learned over 69 years," said Sherrod, who was born in Petersburg, Va., on Jan. 2, 1937.

Sherrod said his teaching methods would include watching films, class reports, observing historical sites and more.

"No lecture," he said. "It will never be a time where I am just talking the whole time," he said.

"I want students to participate in their education and in community affairs."

Babafemi Elufiede, chairman of the History, Political Science and Public Administration Department, said Sherrod is a legend and that having him as a faculty member was a step in the right direction, especially for the next generation.

"Students who will be taking his class will have the knowledge of how it was living through those things he is teaching," he said.

"He knows civil rights, and students will learn first-hand from the horse's mouth," Elufiede said.

Sharon Tucker, professor of history and political science and Sherrod's soon-to-be colleague, called it a blessing for the department and said she and her colleagues were looking forward to having Sherrod in their department.

Many students agreed.

Brittany Blunt, a 20-year-old junior chemistry major and future student in Sherrod's class in U.S. and Georgia government, said, "I will gain insights on history that is not fully covered in the textbooks. He has more experience that he can teach us."

"It is good to have a leader that has a place in history," said Natalie Bustion, 20, a junior early childhood education major.

"Students can hear it directly from the source instead of reading from the book."

The Albany Movement produced no no immediate victory over racial segregation in the city, but that does not mean it was not successful.

"Indeed, in 1976, 15 years after he arrived and was arrested, Charles Sherrod was elected to the Albany city commission," historian Howard Zinn has written. "He responded to the pessimists: 'Some people talk about failure. Where's the failure? Are we not integrated in every facet? Did we stop at any time? Did any injunction stop us? Did any white man stop us? Did any black man stop us? Nothing stopped us in Albany, Georgia. We showed the world.'"

Santrice Curry, a student at Albany State University, writes for the Student Voice. Ashley R. Harris is a student at the University of Houston.

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