With the civil rights generation passing from the scene, it’s important to remember just how many heroes there were. We are talking hundreds of people who should be famous, if not thousands. And that doesn’t even get into the endless people who put their lives on the line for rights that are presently being lost after a half-century. One of them was Charles Sherrod. His wife Shirley, attacked by Republicans and thrown under the bus by an Obama administration thinking it could appease Republicans, is more famous now and for good reason. She’s a huge legend in her own right. But Charles, he was the real leader of the Albany campaign, which got less attention publicly in the end because it failed, leading King to engage in more aggressive tactics in Birmingham such as sending marches of children into the streets to face Bull Connor’s cops, knowing that bloodshed was the only thing that might engage northern whites.
Charles Sherrod though, he stuck around. He made this community his home and became someone who turned that town into a long time civil rights center, fighting for the kind of local community activism absolutely necessary to create change. Because of the 24 hour news cycle, we too often focus on voting as the only way to make change, but Sherrod knew better. He knew that voting was critical–of course it was–but it was what happened at the local level between election cycles that created the conditions for change. In the case of the Sherrods, it was building Black power through land ownership and a collective economy. They both deserve all the credit and with Charles sadly gone, it’s another of our legends who have passed.