The story of New Communities is thoroughly entangled with the lives of Charles and Shirley Sherrod. Charles was one of the founding members and one of the first field coordinators of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). It brought Charles to Albany to establish a Civil Rights Movement where he met Shirley. Together they worked to support black families who were being driven from their land for participating in the movement.
To provide a safe haven for black farmers, New Communities was founded in 1969 as a farm collective on 5,735 acres in Lee County, Georgia, and became one of the original models for community land trusts in the United States. The vision for the land was to become fully self-sufficient. Despite personal, cultural, and institutionalized discrimination, New Communities acted on that vision through the 1970s. They eventually would farm over 1,800 acres and operate a farmer’s market and greenhouse. They even earned a reputation for their cured meats. Unfortunately, all was lost in 1985 following a severe drought in southwest Georgia where black farmers were refused emergency loans offered to their white counterparts.
In a foreclosure engineered by white-owned plantations and the political establishment, New Communities’ dream was lost. After a decade-long court battle as part of the Pigford v. Glickman class action lawsuit, New Communities was eventually granted restitution and immediately began working to re-fashion the dream. A powerful site was found on which to continue the “Long Movement” by addressing contemporary controversies such as African American land loss, food-related disparities, environmental and economic justice, and other related efforts like social justice and racial healing.
The photo captures one of the meetings during the 1970s where board and organizational members met at the daycare center strategizing about the year ahead. The original New Communities site had a grocery store, daycare center, slaughter house, green house, tractor servicing shed/ storage building and office buildings. There were fishing ponds and various crops were grown, as well as animals raised on the farm.