Thursday, July 10, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

The way things used to be

The way things used to be

Since there was a lot of interest in my piece last night on the 1965 killing of Shirley Sherrod's father, Hosie Miller, I wanted to call attention to two excellent pieces that add more layers of context to what was going on back on Baker County, Ga., in those days -- not really that long ago (within my lifetime, certainly).

The first is by Elizabeth Holtzman, the former Watergate-era New York congresswoman, who as a young lawyer worked on a race-related case there:

Screws' deputy, L. Warren Johnson, carried the tradition forward when he became sheriff. In 1961, Johnson, a huge, hulking, 300-pound man, came to the home of Charlie Ware, a small, slight black man, and arrested and handcuffed him for reasons that were unclear then, as now. Forcing Ware into his car, Johnson picked up the radio microphone and announced that Ware was coming at him with a knife and that he was going to shoot him. The sheriff thereupon shot the small, handcuffed man three times in the neck, but Ware miraculously survived. Although the sheriff should have been prosecuted, it was Ware who was charged with attempted murder, a charge that carried the death penalty.

Tonight the always-on-top-of-it Joan Walsh, the editor of Salon.com, has a great look at Sherrod's husband, the renowned civil rights activist Charles Sherrod:

Sherrod was SNCC's first field secretary, and he co-founded the Albany movement after a student sit-in at the local bus station (to test a recently enacted desegregation law) led to a years-long campaign that ultimately involved Martin Luther King Jr. and the intervention of President John F. Kennedy. He traveled to the historic (and almost all-white) 1964 Democratic National Convention, when the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party fought for more black representation. He was jailed several times and stayed with SNCC until 1966, when Stokely Carmichael became chair and whites were expelled, but he'd already become more focused on his work in southwest Georgia than SNCC politics. Sherrod got his doctor of divinity degree from New York's Union Theological Seminary, then returned to Albany to found the Southwest Georgia Independent Voters Project, then the agricultural cooperative New Communities Inc. He served 14 years on the Albany City Council, and he still lives there, known to civil rights movement veterans but obscure to the wider world, until his wife was attacked by the ignorant bullies of the right.

"We tend to think of civil rights workers as people who, it was an episode in their life before they went on and did something else," says Clayborne Carson, SNCC historian and director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford. "But Sherrod is an exemplar of those people who didn't leave the movement. They stayed, and they're still fighting, to this day.

History always matters -- when it's accurate. If you care about what's happening in America in 2010, learn the truth about what happened in Georgia in the early 1960s.

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