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Keynote Speaker: Shirley Sherrod
We are excited and honored to welcome Shirley Sherrod as the keynote speaker for the 2015 It Takes a Region Conference. Shirley Sherrod, a longtime civil rights activist and advocate for family farmers, is the former Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Currently she serves as Executive Director of the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, a social justice organization she and her husband, Charles Sherrod, founded to combat persistent challenges in their region.
In July 2010, Shirley Sherrod was forced to resign her position at USDA after conservative blogger, Andrew Breitbart posted video excerpts on his website of a Sherrod address at a 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 the posted video was taken out of context and part of broader comments conveying a completely different meaning. The NAACP apologized for critical comments and her boss at USDA also apologized while offering her another job, which she later declined.
Sherrod was born in Baker County, Georgia on November 20, 1947 to Grace and Hosea (Hosie) Miller. Her father was murdered by a white farmer reportedly over a dispute about livestock. No charges were ever returned against the shooter by an all-white grand jury. The tragic murder of her father when she was 17 years old had a profound impact on her life and led to her decision to stay in the south to work for change.
She attended Fort Valley State College beginning in September 1965. She was there for two years and transferred to Albany State College where she received a bachelor's degree. She studied sociology while also working for civil rights with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). During this time, she married Reverend Charles Sherrod, one of the founding members of SNCC and the leader of SNCC's work in southwest Georgia.
During the 1960's Sherrod and her husband helped to form New Communities, Inc. The organization acquired 6,000 acres of land and became the first community land trust in the United States. The project encountered difficulties in the opposition of area white farmers who accused participants of being communists, and also from Georgia's segregationist Governor, Lester Maddox, who prevented the federal government's development funds from entering the state. A drought in the 1970's, fertilizer suppliers selling inferior products to the organization and the inability to get timely government loans led to the project's ultimate demise. Sherrod went on to work for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives in 1985 to help black farmers keep their land.
Sherrod earned a Master's Degree from Antioch University in 1989. She was recently awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Sojourner-Douglass College In Baltimore, Maryland.