Posts tagged ‘Charles Sherrod’

The Day the “Colored Sign” Walked Out

penny-patch-panola-county-ms-1965-photo-by-tom-wakayama
Penny Patch, Panola County, MS. 1965.
Photo by Tom Wakayama

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Guest Blogger: Penny Patch
Lyndonville, Vermont

“In 1962 I was a young white woman working as an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Southwest Georgia. A brilliant young man named Charles Sherrod was our project director, my teacher and mentor. And during those years I also met and worked with many audacious local young people who, with their families, became the backbone of the Albany Movement in Southwest Georgia.

Two of these young women were Patricia Ann Gaines and Margaret Sanders, at the time age 15 and 16 respectively. Their families sheltered me and other civil rights workers at great risk to themselves. Their entire families participated in the Movement, including two year old Peaches Gaines who went to jail with her mother and sisters Pat, Shirley, and Marian. I remember Marian Gaines at age 11 leading a march into the police lines singing “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round.” Mr. Gaines, their Dad, was known on occasion to sit outside the mass meeting with other men, shotguns across their laps, protecting the mass meeting. And Margaret’s sisters Mary, Jean, and Sharon Sanders accompanied her on her path to becoming a student leader in the Albany Movement.

I am naming names because these young women —whose names are not as well known as they should be—were citizens of Albany. One thing to know about each and every one is that they took risks, all the time. So one day Margaret and Pat strolled into the Dougherty County Courthouse, walked over to the two water fountains in the main hall, and took down the “colored” sign which hung over the small water fountain positioned next to the much larger water fountain which was labelled as “white.” These are the same water fountains, with signs in place, that you see in Danny Lyon’s iconic photo posted here.

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Photo by Danny Lyon, from his book: Memories if the Southern Civil Rights Movementwww.dektol.wordpress.com

Pat and Margaret lifted the sign, walked out of the building and escaped back into the black community before anybody noticed it was gone. How did they do this? I have no idea. And Pat, whenever I ask her, says her memory is kind of vague about the whole episode. (We agree that this is probably due to stress related memory loss). Some time later, as I was leaving Albany to work in Mississippi, Pat and Margaret presented me with the sign and the story of their exploit. I took that sign with me on many occasions for many years whenever I talked to students about the Black Freedom Movement. But then the Albany Civil Rights Institute opened and it was time to place it where it belonged, in that museum in its home town. You all can visit this wonderful small museum and see the sign on display, with Pat and Margaret’s inscription on the back of it.

Pat Gaines with Charels Sherrod, 2011 Albany, GA

Pat Gaines with Charels Sherrod, 2011 Albany, GA

 

Note from Anita: I met Penny in May 2011 when I traveled back home to Albany, GA for the 5oth Anniversary of the SNCC movement. She has been following the blog since the early days and graciously providing insight and details for my novel. In an email recently she recounted the story above then agreed to share with my readers.

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Me with Penny and granddaughter in Hyper Gym, Albany State University, May 2011

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L-R: Annette Jones, Penny, Charles Neblett. Hyper Gym, ASU. May 2011

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50 Years After the Albany Movement

Albany Civil Rights Institute,  June 2011 (ACRI)     Photo: A.G. Jones

While in Albany researching the novel in June 2011, I snapped the picture above during the opening reception of the SNCC 50th Anniversary of the Albany Movement. The Movement was founded on November 17, 196, so ACRI has had many festivities throughout 2011 to celebrate.

Powerful Reserve

Notch > November 1st
On this day in 1961, SNCC workers Charles Sherrod and Cordell Reagon, along with nine members of the NAACP Youth Council—funded by local business man Tom Chatmon—test new Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) rules at Trailways bus station in Albany, Georgia.

Charles & Shirley Sherrod: Hyper Gym, Albany State University, June 2011

Meeting Rev. Charles Sherrod at the 50th Anniversary of the Albany Movement back in June 2011 was a momentous occasion for me. He was one of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)) field secretaries who came to Albany half a century ago to work on voter registration; ended up carving a Movement and never left. He and his wife, Shirley Sherrod, still live in southwest Georgia, and still champion the empowerment of black families with The Southwest Georgia Project.

I had tried in vain to connect with Charles by email, and had seen him at a distance at the opening session of the Anniversary in the Hyper Gym. I was even introduced to him, but the timing wasn’t right, we were taking our seats to hear the keynote delivered by Dr. William Anderson, the first president of the Albany Movement.

Generally speaking,  I’m a person who “meets no strangers”—as we say in SOWEGA (southwest Georgia)—but for some reason it was not easy for me to walk up to Charles and introduce myself. Later, this seemed absurd because—as many had told me—he is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. I mistook his graceful, reserved manner for something unapproachable.

Charles is a man of few words. I finally plucked up the nerve to asked for an interview, and he asked if I had a car, said I could drive him to a function that evening and we could talk then. That was easy. I settled into my chair to knit and take notes on the rest of the sessions. Then a little later, during a lull in one of the longer sessions, he came to me in the  and whispered, “Let’s talk now,” and headed for the doors, carrying his granddaughter in his arms. I quickly closed my notebook, stashed the knitting and rolled my carry-on camera bag down the aisle to catch him. We sat in a quiet room across the lobby and in his very deliberate, peaceful way, he talked about coming to Albany back in 1961armed with only the names of two local people. He was totally at the mercy of black families around Doughtery County whose homes became “Freedom Houses”.  He never wanted for meals or a place to sleep. In fact, most times there was a contest to see who would feed and house him for the night.

Charles Sherrod came to Albany to lead, to teach, to help black folk find a voice. When I asked what a typical day in the Movement would’ve been like for an 18-year old he said, “We told them that they would face danger everyday; some kind of violence everyday, in the guerilla type lifestyle they had chosen.”  It was made clear to recruits that if you weren’t prepared for such a life, then working in the Movement was not for you.

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