Peace and Power: Earl Theodore Shinhoster (1950-2000)

Staff

Vol. 22, No. 2, 2000 p. 23

Life-long activist Earl Shinhoster was "one of the brightest stars in the human rights galaxy," said SCLC President Emeritus Reverend Joseph Lowery at the June 16 memorial service commemorating his life and work. Mr. Shinhoster died June 11 in a single-vehicle crash near Milstead, Alabama, about twenty-five miles east of Montgomery, while accompanying visitors from Liberia, West Africa to Tuskegee Institute. He will be revered for many contributions: a deep commitment to family, an intense dedication to the struggle for justice, and tireless work to enhance democracy and empowerment both in the U.S. South and on the African continent.

A life-long leader in the NAACP, Mr. Shinhoster also directed SRC's Voting Rights Programs during 1997. On June 16, family, friends, and colleagues joined his wife, Ruby Dallas Shinhoster and son, Michael Omar, in a moving celebration of his life at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia.

Civil rights veteran W.W. Law, Mr. Shinhoster's mentor since his childhood in Savannah, Georgia, recalled a story from Earl's teen years. One day, Earl came to school with no socks, an early act of resistance for which he was sent home from school. The next day, all the boys came to school with no socks. Said W.W. Law, "Earl led the 'no socks boys' right into the youth council of the NAACP, where he has been ever since--on the battlefront of the fight for full equality for black people."

After years of service as the NAACP's southeast regional director, Mr. Shinhoster became acting executive director and chief executive officer of the NAACP from 1995 to 1996. He was recognized by NAACP President Kweisi Mfume for erasing more than $1 million of a $4.8 million debt and promoting membership growth from 600,000 to nearly 1 million.

Mr. Shinhoster led voter registration and turnout efforts that are credited with electing three Southern governors, including Governor Roy Barnes of Georgia, Governor Ronald Musgrove of Mississippi, and Governor Don Siegelman of Alabama, who attended the service. At the time of his death, Mr. Shinhoster was the director of the NAACP's National Voter Empowerment Programs. He organized and spoke out against persistent injustices in voting, including criminal disfranchisement laws (Southern Changes Fall 1998).

He led gently, firmly, angrily--as necessary. A sensitive poet, as well as committed activist, his approach was "universal and ecumenical." said Reverend Lowery. His international work took him to several countries in Africa, including Ghana, Nigeria. and South Africa, where he assisted with voter education and mobilization for the African National Congress in recent elections.

His African dress was an expression of his identity, a challenge to be authentic, said his sister. Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb. "His death is a call to action," said Ms. Lamb, a challenge to "take up a portion of the work he was doing." Action for peace and power-as Mr. Shinhoster closed his notes and letters.

The Earl T. Shinhoster Memorial Fund has been established for the higher education of his son. Michael Omar Shinhoster, who is thirteen. Contributions to the fund may be made to Citizens Trust Bank, West Side Branch, 965 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, S.W. Atlanta,Georgia 30314.