Spotlight on Humphrey Honoree: Shirley Sherrod

Media 04.15,11

On May 12, the civil and human rights community will honor civil and human rights activist Shirley Sherrod with its highest honor, the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil and Human Rights Award, for a lifelong advocacy on behalf of all working people.

Sherrod was born in 1948 in rural Georgia. In 1965, her father was shot and killed by a White farmer reportedly over a dispute about livestock. An all-White jury declined to indict the farmer. The incident was the motivation for Sherrod to become a civil rights activist in the South, where she worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

She earned a sociology degree from Albany State University.  After earning a master’s degree in community development from Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Sherrod returned to Georgia to begin what would become lifelong advocacy on behalf of African-American farmers, helping to build assets and wealth among a historically dispossessed group.

Working with her husband Charles Sherrod, she formed New Communities, Inc., a model community land trust that eventually became the largest tract of African-American owned land in the United States. Her work in farmland preservation and asset building led her to work with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and then to a position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sherrod came to national prominence last year when a video of a speech she gave at a March 2010 NAACP event, selectively edited by conservative activist Andrew Breitbart, resulted in her being forced to resign from her job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In fact, Sherrod’s speech told a compelling story of how her work two decades earlier to help a White farmer save his land influenced her in the fight for economic justice for all people, regardless of race. After viewing the unedited version of the video, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack apologized to Sherrod and later offered her a new position within the USDA, but she declined.

Visit our Hubert H. Humphrey Civil and Human Rights Award Dinner page for more information on tickets, sponsorship, and the honorees.