Union Medal

Instituted in 1981 as a means of honoring individuals whose lives reflect the mission of the Seminary in the world, the Union Medal is the Seminary’s highest award. Past medalists include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Vice President Al Gore, and Judith and Bill Moyers.

2017 Union Medal recipients Rev. Charles M. Sherrod ’66 & Shirley M. Sherrod with Union President, Rev. Dr. Serene Jones (far left), and Board Chair, Wolcott ‘Dick’ Dunham (far right)

2017 Union Medal Citations

Charles Melvin Sherrod, you have been a civil rights activist, veteran organizer of sit-ins, jail-ins, demonstrations, marches, and Freedom Rides; co-founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); co-founder of the Albany movement; director of SNCC’s Southwest Georgia voter registration project; co-founder in faithful partnership with your wife, Shirley, of a Black-owned cooperative farm in Lee County, Georgia — but most importantly, you have been a civil rights beacon shining forth unto future generations.

You went to southwest Georgia and never left. After a brief sojourn at Union to receive the STM in 1966, you returned to the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, where you served as director from 1961 to 1987. Co-founder of New Communities, Inc., your cooperative farming project, you helped manage one of the largest tracts of Black-owned land in the U.S. for more than 15 years, offering the opportunity to many to farm securely and affordably for the first time. You served on the Albany City Commission from 1976 to 1990, and in 1996 ran for Georgia State Senate. Most recently you have served as a chaplain at the Georgia State Prison in Homerville, Georgia. You rouse and inspire the civil rights activist in all of us.

Your life and your ministry of non-violent activism embody the highest ideals and aspirations of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. For your exemplary courage, will power, tenacity and moral rectitude over more than six decades of social-justice activism; for imparting a sense of mission and destiny to those who followed you; for your dignity and grace and leadership — we award you Union’s highest honor, the Union Medal.

Shirley Miller Sherrod, you have been a civil rights activist; agriculturalist extraordinaire; co-founder in faithful partnership with your husband, Charles, of a Black-owned cooperative farm in Lee County, Georgia; Director of Rural Development for the State of Georgia with the U.S. Department of Agriculture — but most importantly, you have been a zealous and tireless advocate on behalf of sharecroppers, smallholders, and other poor farmers — indeed on behalf of all and any who ask for your help, whether Black, white or Latinx.

In southwest Georgia, you were among the first Black students to desegregate your local high school. Co-founder of New Communities, Inc., your cooperative farming project, you helped manage one of the largest tracts of Black-owned land in the U.S. for more than 15 years, offering the opportunity to many to farm securely and affordably for the first time. Appointed Director of Rural Development for the State of Georgia by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, you were subsequently slandered by Andrew Breitbart in a malicious campaign of fake news, which prompted the White House to unjustly ask for your resignation. You calmly went on CNN, vindicated yourself with dignity and quiet resolution, and won the day. You rouse and inspire the social activist in all of us, and shine forth as a lodestar of dauntlessness.

Your life, your activism, and your righteous fortitude in the face of wrongful political slander embody the highest ideals and aspirations of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. For your behind-the-scenes, impassioned advocacy on behalf of poor farmers; your superlative bravura on the national stage; your strength, resolution and moral rectitude over many decades of social-justice activism; for your dignity and grace and leadership — we award you Union’s highest honor, the Union Medal.

Past Union Medal Recipients

2017

Rev. Charles M. Sherrod ’66
Civil rights activist and Freedom Ride organizer; co-founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Albany Movement

Shirley M. Sherrod
Agricultural advocate; Director of Rural Development for the State of Georgia (USDA)

2016

Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon ’83
First African American woman ordained in the United Presbyterian Church (USA), Annie Scales Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Presbyterian Seminary

Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian
Civil rights activist and spiritual leader; 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient; Board Member, BASIC Diversity, Inc.

2015

Mandy Carter
Human rights activist, public policy advocate, and grassroots organizer; co-founder of Southerners On New Ground (SONG) and the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC)

Hon. Al Gore
Advocate and activist for solving the climate crisis; former Vice President of the United States

2011

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid
Advocate for women and youth health and empowerment; former Executive Direction of the United Nations Population Fund

Daniel E. Pellegrom ’69
Advocate and activist for reproductive health and President of Pathfinder International

2006

Ophelia Dahl
Global health activist and co-founder of Partners in Health

Paul Farmer, M.D.
Global health activist and co-founder of Partners in Health

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Church leader and human rights advocate

2005

Bill Moyers
Award-winning television journalist; prophetic voice for democratic ideals, separation of church and state, and freedom of the press

Judith Davidson Moyers
Educator, writer, editor, television producer and advocate for children

Anne Hale Johnson ’56
Philanthropist and social activist

2003

Rev. Dr. William Sloane Coffin ’52
Pastor, preacher, activist and conscience of the nation

Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie
Pastor, author, journalist and role model for women in ministry

2001

Rev. Dr. Ko Chun-Beng (C. M. Kao)
Church leader and human rights advocate in Taiwan

1999

Rev. Dr. George William Webber ’48, ’64
Theologian and mentor for clergy in urban ministry through the East Harlem Protestant Parish

Dr. Marian Wright Edelman
Social activist and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund

1995

Dr. Helmut Reihlen
Business leader; Evangelical Synod president; leader in effort to preserve the memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

1994

Bishop K. H. Ting ’48
Theologian and Christian community leader in the People’s Republic of China

Kim Dae-Jung
Leader in the struggle for the democratization and re-unification of Korea

1992

Katherine Womeldorf Paterson ’62
Distinguished author of children’s books and missionary

Maestro Christoph Von Dohnányi
Music Director of The Cleveland Orchestra and nephew of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Maestro Kurt Masur
Music Director of the New York Philharmonic and leader in the German re-unification effort

1991

Rev. Dr. Donald W. Shriver, Jr.
Ethicist, author, teacher, and thirteenth president of Union Seminary

Dr. Peggy A. L. Shriver
Author and church leader

1990

Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak
South African anti-apartheid activist, theologian and author

1989

Dr. Richard Freiherr von Weizsäcker
President of the Federal Republic of Germany

1988

Rosalind E. Havemeyer
Benefactor and first female Chair of the Board, Union Seminary 1969-75

Pamela Ilott
Vice President for Religious and Cultural Affairs, CBS

1987

Rev. Dr. John Knox, Sr.
Baldwin Professor Emeritus of Sacred Literature

Dr. Darlene Nicgorski
Sanctuary Movement activist

Rev. John M. Fife
Sanctuary Movement activist

George Macleod (the Very Reverend the Lord Macleod of Fuinary)
Founder of Scotland’s Iona Community

1986

Rev. Dr. John C. Bennett ’27
Christian social ethicist and eleventh president of Union Seminary

Anne McGrew Bennett
Peace activist and feminist theologian

1984

Rev. Gardner Taylor
Leading American preacher

Dr. Eberhard Bethge
Colleague and biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

1983

Rev. Rachel Henderlite
Educator; first woman ordained by the Presbyterian Church, USA

Dr. Okgill Kim
President Emerita of Ewha Women’s University, Korea

1982

Hon. George Kennan
Diplomat and scholar

Hon. Andrew Young
Political Leader and diplomat

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