On June 7-8th the America the Bountiful tour had the pleasure of spending a night on the grounds of the Cypress Pond Plantation property now owned by New Communities and run by Ms. Shirley Sherrod. See photo of Shirley Sherrod and Niaz Dorry below.
History of New Communities Struggle:
“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."