In a workshop facilitated by Savi Horne of the Land Loss Prevention Project at last month’s Kellogg Conference, Armando and I had the opportunity to hear Mrs. Shirley Shirrod’s powerful story of growing up in the South, confronting racism, and her fight for desegregation and racial equality as part of the Albany Movement. She told about Mr. Shirrod coming to Albany, Georgia, as the first Field Coordinator for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). And it brought tears to my eyes when, the next day as part of the opening plenary, he sang an old spiritual hymnal a cappella about Freedom and slavery.
In 1969, the Shirrods help found a 5,735 acre farm in Southwest Georgia known as New Communities. Modeled after kibbutzim, New Communities was one of the largest parcels of black-owned land in the US and NC farmers were labeled as communists (and I’m sure much worse). Although they eventually lost the land due to blocked funding and drought, as of 2011, the Shirrods have purchased a new parcel to be dedicated to racial healing and economic opportunity. This past weekend was the grand opening of what the Shirrods are calling Resora. Initially established by one of the largest slaveholders in Georgia, Resora is now a place for retreat, preservation and culture.
And the timing is appropriate given the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. In June 1964, several civil rights organizations including SNCC, NAACP, Congress of Racial Equity (CORE), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organized voter registration drives throughout Mississippi. Freedom Summer was also a network of Freedom Schools and community centers established to be of service to the local black population in the face of racial inequity, voter suppression, and violent retaliation.
Because of people like the Shirrods and other civil rights leaders that remained committed to equity and justice despite violent adversity, I’ve been inspired to refocus my personal efforts to the South where I was born and raised. As of July 3rd, I am transitioning from Program Manager to community partner and regional organizer. I look forward to continuing to work with the CFJC family in this new capacity, while learning from the teachers of the civil rights movement, and being of service to those who have been historically, socially, and politically marginalized.