Charles Sherrod was born in Petersburg, Virginia in 1937 and raised by his grandmother, a devout Baptist. Sherrod grew up singing in the choir, attending Sunday school and even preaching to other children at Mount Olivet Baptist Church. He first became aware of racism at age two, when his mother yanked him out of a front seat and pulled him to the back of a bus. He took his first step toward activism in 1954, just after the Supreme Court decision to desegregate public schools. A friend asked him if he wanted to desegregate the white churches, and so the two "sat-in" at white services in Petersburg, long before the sit-in movement began.
In 1961, while studying at Virginia Union University, Sherrod again joined in a sit-in, this time at department stores in Richmond, Virginia. Later that year, he turned down a college teaching position and instead headed to Shaw University to join student leaders from around the country in the founding of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Sherrod was one of the first to practice the jail-no bail policy, which became a common tactic of the movement. When ten students were arrested for a sit-in in Rock Hill, South Carolina in February of 1961, Sherrod and three others went to Rock Hill, held a sit-in, were arrested, refused bail, and served thirty-day sentences in an attempt to dramatize the injustice of the law.
Early on, one of SNCC's areas of focus was southwest Georgia, where Sherrod went in the fall of 1961 at age 22. Two months after arriving in Albany, Georgia, Sherrod and SNCC field workers led a large series of demonstrations that would last for over three difficult years, during which hundreds were arrested. By printing up leaflets, registering voters, and holding seminars on non-violent resistance, they galvanized Albany's black students to rise up and challenge unjust laws of segregation. Throughout this time, Sherrod and SNCC field workers traveled throughout the surrounding counties to educate and register black voters in southwest Georgia's rural areas.
It is often pointed out that Sherrod went to southwest Georgia and never left. After a brief sojourn in New York, where he received his master's degree in sacred theology from Union Theological Seminary in 1967, Sherrod returned to the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, where he served as director from 1961 to 1987. He also directed New Communities, Inc., a cooperative farming project, from 1969 to 1985. He served on the Albany City Commission from 1976 to 1990, and in 1996 ran unsuccessfully for Georgia State Senate. Sherrod currently works as a chaplain at the Georgia State Prison in Homerville, Georgia.