New Communities in 1970s
Experiences in South Georgia
I had been married to Charles Sherrod for less than a month in 1966 when he was arrested for having a one hundred dollar bill. It seems so strange today. I had received a student loan for my second year of college, from a bank in Calhoun County. There was not enough time for me to arrange to go to the bank with Charles to open an account at the First State Bank of Albany - in both of our names.
A few days after arriving at school, I received a call from a detective with the Albany Police Department. He wanted to know if I had given my husband any money. I said yes, and then he inquired about the size of the bills. I told him I had given him twenty, fifty and one hundred dollar bill. I hung up and was left wondering what was going on. I called the house we were staying in, because I knew I would get some, since EVERYONE lived with us. I talked to Ed Feaver and found out that Charles had done to the junkyard to buy a part for one of the old cars we used and attempted to pay for the part with a one hundred dollar bill. The junkyard dealer called the police and they took him to jail. He was released after the detective talked to me.
NEW COMMUNITIES INC. HISTORY
In an effort to assist African Americans living in segregated Southwest Georgia, eight individuals, including Charles Sherrod, traveled to Israel during the summer of 1968 to see how the Jewish National Fund leased land for various uses. Drawing on the Moshav communities, Sherrod and his colleagues proposed to create a cooperatively managed agricultural settlement that combined community ownership of land with individual ownership of houses – the pre-cursor of what came to be known as a “community land trust.”
In June 1968, seven individuals - Slater King, Leonard Smith, Lewis Black, Charles Sherrod, Robert (Bob) Swann, Fay Bennett and Albert Turner traveled to Israel. This plan came to fruition in 1969 with the incorporation of New Communities Inc. (NCI) and subsequent purchase of land one year later.
Slater King, who was a real estate broker, found a farm (4800 acres) in Lee County. The land was located between Smithville and Leesburg with two and a half miles of highway frontage on highway 19. While trying to secure financing for the 4800 acre tract, another 935 acres became available, for a total of 5,735 acres. This became the largest single tack of land owned by African Americans in the country.
One year financing was secured and a planning grant was awarded by the office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), to plan the community and secure substantial federal funding. Charrettes were held so that future settlers could plan their community. The future settlers, with the help of experts, decided the kind of educational, health, industrial, housing, recreational and agricultural systems they would have. Sites were chosen for villages and other sites were designated for other activities, i.e. there was railroad spur on the property that would have been the site for the industrial park. Over 500 families wanted to move to the community in the initial phase.
At the end of the planning phase, Lester Maddox, who was the Governor of the state of Georgia, vetoed a grant that had been approved by the OEO, dashing the hopes of building a community. This started a 15 year battle to hold on to the land. The battle was lost in 1985, after a series of disasters, both natural (drought) and manmade (institutional discrimination), New Communities lost the nearly 6,000 acres of land. The Prudential Insurance Company, in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture, Farmers' Home Administration, foreclosed and took the land. It sold at the courthouse steps in Lee County for one-fifth its value at $1.1 million.
We were forced off the land in Lee County and after the foreclosure in 1985, the new owners apparently wanted to rid the land of anything that would remind them of the previous owners. They dug holes and pushed all of our buildings into them. We had to walk away knowing of the discrimination we experienced, but could not do anything about it. The loss was devastating.
Landless, but not broken, New Communities became part of Pigford vs. Glickman lawsuit eleven years later. This lawsuit was a landmark class action lawsuit against the USDA to address injustices against African American farmers. New Communities Inc. became a Class B claimant in the Pigford suit. The claim was filed in 1999 by Attorney Rose Sanders of Chesnut, Sanders and Sanders in Selma Alabama. Ten years later New Communities won the lawsuit and received a settlement. New Communities used the proceeds to purchase the 1, 638 acre Cypress Pond Plantation property.
The Cypress Pond Plantation property was once the property of the largest slaveholder in Georgia. After the purchase of Cypress Pond Plantation in 2011, New Communities set out to create a unique headquarters to serve as a catalyst for growth in individuals, healing in the community and transformation across the globe. As Shirley Sherrod put it, Cypress Pond is envisioned as "a place where we could both farm the land and also nurture the minds of people."