Elevation Community Land Trust Mourns Charles Sherrod
Elevation Community Land Trust mourns the passing and honors the memory of Reverend Charles Sherrod, to whom the community land trust (CLT) movement owes its existence. Rev. Sherrod passed away at 85 years old on October 11, 2022 at his home in Albany, Georgia. He is survived by his wife, Shirley Sherrod, another icon of the civil rights and CLT movements, as well as his three brothers, his sister, his son and daughter, and five granddaughters.
Rev. Sherrod helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960 and became SNCC’s first full time field secretary in 1961. He arrived in Albany, Georgia with the aim to fully integrate the town. Later in life, he reflected on his arrival in Albany, saying “nothing but death could stop me from the mission I had of developing our people.”
Upon his arrival, his first project was the integration of the local bus station. But he and his allies’ larger goal was complete desegregation of the community. Their work in Albany was noted by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who travelled to support the movement and later used it to organize his Birmingham campaign.
King moved on to different cities, but Sherrod remained committed to Albany. After travelling there to organize, he spread roots, married his wife Shirley, and started a family. During the 1960s, Sherrod came to realize that, in his own words, “all power comes from the land.”
In 1968, Rev. Sherrod, along with other civil rights and land use activists, traveled to Israel to learn about the Jewish National Fund’s work to foster community control of land by using long-term leases. Upon returning to Georgia, Sherrod fundraised for and purchased an almost 6,000-acre parcel. He then used that land to found New Communities, Inc., a community-held farm that provided space for Black farmers who had been evicted from their land. It was the largest Black-owned landholding in the nation. Most importantly for Elevation Community Land Trust, New Communities was the first organization in the U.S. to use the CLT model to ensure land is perpetually dedicated to community benefit.
New Communities’ founding was not universally welcomed – white locals would shoot at New Communities’ buildings regularly and generally rejected the organization’s existence. But the federal government also discriminated against New Communities and other Black farmers when the US Department of Agriculture engaged in institutional discrimination by disproportionately denying agricultural loans to Black farmers. New Communities lost its land in 1985, following a severe drought where Black farmers were refused emergency loans that were offered to their white counterparts.
Eventually, New Communities was part of the landmark Pigford v. Glickman settlement, reportedly the largest civil rights settlement in US history, wherein the USDA settled a claim that it discriminated against Black farmers in allocating farm loans and assistance. With this settlement, New Communities purchased new land – a former plantation, complete with quarters for enslaved peoples – and today continues to be a global beacon for racial equity and community empowerment through land access.
Today, CLTs are mostly used to preserve affordable housing in high-cost markets, but the CLT mechanism has its roots in the preservation of agricultural land for Black farmers. Elevation Community Land Trust would not be the organization it is today without the tireless work of the Rev. Charles Sherrod and his allies. Many of us had the honor of visiting New Communities for their 50th anniversary in 2018, where we celebrated alongside Charles and Shirley and CLT practitioners from around the country. We thank Rev. Sherrod for his contribution to the movement and work to honor his legacy through our work.