Throughout more than thirty years of service to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Earl T. Shinhoster distinguished himself as a tireless and versatile foot soldier for civil rights. From his days as a youth council member in the 1960s to his tenure as acting executive director, Shinhoster devoted his life’s work to the organization’s progress. The Decatur resident was, according to the NAACP’s former executive director Kweisi Mfume, “one of the NAACP leaders who made this organization work.”
Earl Theodore Shinhoster was born in Savannah on July 5, 1950, to Nadine and Willie Shinhoster and raised in Carver Village on the city’s westside. In 1963, at the age of thirteen, he became a member of the NAACP, joining an energetic youth council chapter that formed the vanguard of Savannah’s civil rights movement. He was elected president of the Savannah NAACP Youth Council just three years later, the first of many leadership positions he would hold with the vaunted civil rights organization.
After completing high school, Shinhoster entered Morehouse College in Atlanta and graduated in 1972 with a degree in political science. He then moved north to study law at Cleveland State University in Ohio but returned to Georgia in 1975 to join Georgia governor George Busbee’s staff as director of the Office of Human Affairs. In 1977 he was named director of the NAACP’s southeast region office in Atlanta, a position he held for the next seventeen years.
He married Ruby Dallas in 1969, and they had one son, Michael.
In 1993 NAACP board members identified Shinhoster as a possible successor to executive director Benjamin Hooks but ultimately selected the Reverend Benjamin Chavis to fill the organization’s top post, naming Shinhoster national field secretary instead. The organization’s financial condition worsened under Chavis’s command, however, and when he was forced to resign after a little more than a year on the job, the board named Shinhoster acting executive director.
Disappointed by the board’s decision, Shinhoster parted ways with the organization that had been his institutional home for nearly his entire professional life. He undertook a variety of pursuits thereafter, working for six months as a field director with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in Ghana, promoting voter education for Georgia’s secretary of state office in advance of the 1996 midterm elections, and starting a management consulting firm, Shinhoster Group International.
On June 11, 2000, less than a year after he returned to the NAACP as the national director of voter empowerment, Shinhoster was killed in a car accident near Montgomery, Alabama. He had been escorting the First Lady of Liberia, led by a caravan of state troopers, when their vehicle, a Ford Explorer with Firestone tires, experienced a tire blowout and rolled over. Because of a high number of similar accidents, both Ford and Firestone were forced to recall their products. In addition, the companies subsequently settled many lawsuits with victims and their families, including Shinhoster’s family.
In 2001 the Women’s Organizational Movement for Equality Now, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, erected a memorial in Alabama to Shinhoster and dedicated the stretch of Interstate 85 where he died as the “Earl T. Shinhoster Parkway.”