Keynote Speaker: Shirley M. Sherrod
In July 2010, Mrs. Shirley Sherrod was forced to resign her position at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) after conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted video excerpts on his website of an address by Mrs. Sherrod at a NAACP event. According to Breitbart, her comments showed how a federally-funded appointed executive racially discriminated against a white farmer. The video set off a storm of controversy and criticism. However, upon review of the complete unedited video in full context, the NAACP, White House officials and Tom Vilsack, the United States Secretary of Agriculture, apologized for her firing and offered her a new position, which she declined. Mrs. Sherrod was appointed by the Obama Administration as USDA Georgia State Director for Rural Development in 2009. She was the first black person to hold that position.
Mrs. Sherrod was born in Baker County, Georgia, in November, 1947, to Hosie and Grace Miller. In 1965, when she was 17 years old, her father, a deacon at a local Baptist Church, was shot to death by a white farmer, reportedly over a dispute about livestock. No charges were returned against the shooter by an all-white grand jury. The tragic murder of her father was a turning point in her life and it led to her deciding to stay in the south to work for change. Several months after Mr. Miller’s murder, a cross was burned at night in front of the Miller’s home while Hosie Miller, her four daughters, including Shirley, and her infant son, born after her husband’s killing, were inside.
That same year, Sherrod was among the first black students to enroll in the previously all-white high school in Baker County.
Mrs. Sherrod attended Fort Valley State College and later received a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology at Albany State University. While in Albany, she also worked for civil rights with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), where she met her future husband, Charles Sherrod, one of the founding members of SNCC and the leader of SNCC’s work in Southwest Georgia. She later went on to Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where she earned her Master’s degree in Community Development through the Rural Development Leadership Network.
In 1969, Mrs. Sherrod and her husband helped to form New Communities, a land trust that held 6,000 acres of land in Lee County, Georgia–one of the largest tracts of black-owned land in the US. The project soon encountered difficulties in the opposition of area white farmers, who accused participants of being Communists, and from segregationist Democratic Governor Lester Maddox, who prevented development funds for the project from entering the state. A drought in the 1970s and inability to get government loans led to the project’s ultimate demise in 1985. Nonetheless, the perseverance and foresight of the New Communities group in Georgia, motivated by the right of African-American farmers to farm land and securely and affordably, initiated the community land trust movement in the US, and it has served as a laboratory and model for groups across the country. Through it all, Mrs. Sherrod has maintained her faith in Christ. She currently worships at the CK Smith Memorial Presbyterian Church in Albany, Georgia. The Sherrods are the proud parents of two children, Russia and Kenyatta, and have four granddaughters.
Mrs. Sherrod is currently working with the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, Inc. The project includes building a food hub that will have a vegetable processing center for small farmers; a school project connecting farmers and school systems in an effort to supply locally grown vegetables to local schools; and a racial healing project in Dougherty, Wilcox and Clay Counties, Georgia.
Master of Ceremony: Blain Snipstal
Blain Snipstal is a returning generation peasant-farmer, organizer, artist and seed keeper of Afro-Indigenous ancestry based in the traditional North-South of Baltimore, Maryland. He is part of the International Youth Articulation of La Via Campesina and serves as part of the regional and youth leadership of La Via Campesina North America. He serves as a board and farm member of SAAFON – South Eastern African-American Farmers Organic Network, the only African-American organic farming network in the South Eastern United States.