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Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Guest Contribution

Last week, Andrew Breitbart, one of the more contemptible acolytes of the right-wing blogosphere, edited a video of a Department of Agriculture worker named Shirley Sherrod to suggest that she had purposely refused to help white people on the job. Within 24 hours Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had forced her to resign. With another day or two, people had seen the whole video of her speech and realized the Breitbart (what a shock!) had taken an excerpt out of context, and President Obama had called her to offer her her job back.

This morning I became curious and decided to see if I could find the whole text of her speech, and I did, at a site called americanrhetoric.com. The text has appeared on some other blogs but the Atlantic is the only major outlet I saw that seems to have published it. And while the commentators have pointed out how shamelessly Breitbart and Fox News distorted her remarks about her contacts with a white farmer who was going to lose his farm, I haven't seen one that seemed to have read the whole speech. Reading the whole text is a habit of mine--it was no accident that one of the epigraphs for The Road to Dallas comes from Lewis Carroll:

"The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. 'Where should I begin, please Your Majesty?" he asked.

"'Begin at the beginning,' said the King gravely, 'and go on until you come to the end: then stop.'"

Well, Shirley Sherrod told the story of her own life, and it's quite a remarkable story. It surely resonated with me. I had heard stories of Georgia sheriffs like hers from Edward P. Morgan on the radio in the late 1950s, and her brother was born just one day before my eighteenth birthday, in that incredibly pivotal month of June 1965. But I'm not going to try to summarize it. I'll let you read it for yourself. This is the kind of speech you can get fired for making in the United States of America in 2010. Just think about that.

Take it away, Shirley.

A few more comments of my own follow at the end.

Good evening.

Olivia, I want to thank you for those kind words. You know, it's been a pleasure working with her over the last 10 years. I've missed the work. [I] had to move on to some other -- other work, and I'll talk to you more about that.

To the president of the NAACP, here, and the board of directors, and members, and all the others here, it is indeed a pleasure for me to be with you this evening. And I want to say to you, I am very proud to be working with the Obama Administration to help rural America's welfare. I want to do all I can to help rural communities such as yours to be a place where we can have a quality life and a comfortable life for our families and our friends.

But before I give you -- even before I -- I go into what I have here, I want to -- I want to second something that Olivia said. You know, I grew up on the farm and I didn't want to have anything to do with agriculture, but she was right. There are jobs at USDA, and many times there are no people of color to fill those jobs 'cause we shy away from agriculture. We hear the word "agriculture" and think only of working in the fields.

And you've heard of a lot of layoffs. Have you heard of anybody in the federal government losing their job? That's all that I need to say, okay? And I -- I might say a little bit more to the young people. It's good to have you all here.

I want to share something with you this evening, something that's always heavy on my heart each day, but especially at this time of the year.

It was 45 years ago today that my father's funeral was held. I was a young girl at the age of 17 when my father was murdered by a white man in Baker County. In Baker County, the murder of black people occurred periodically, and in every case the white men who murdered them were never punished. It was no different in my father's case. There were three witnesses to his murder, but the grand jury refused to indict the white man who murdered him.

I should tell you a little about Baker County. In case you don't know where it is, it's located less than 20 miles southwest of Albany. Now, there were two sheriffs from Baker County that -- whose names you probably never heard but I know in the case of one, the thing he did many, many years ago still affect us today. And that sheriff was Claude Screws. Claude Screws lynched a black man. And this was at the beginning of the 40s. And the strange thing back then was an all-white federal jury convicted him not of murder but of depriving Bobby Hall -- and I should say that Bobby Hall was a relative -- depriving him of his civil rights.

So, in the opinion, when the justice wrote his opinion and justifying overturning the conviction, he said you had to prove that as the sheriff was murdering Bobby Hall he was thinking of depriving him of his civil rights. That's where the whole issue of proving intent came from and you heard it a lot. It was used a lot during the Civil Rights Movement. What you also heard a lot when Rodney King was beaten out in California. Y'all might remember that. They kept saying you had to prove intent -- and that came from Screws vs. the U.S. Government.

I'm told that case is studied by every law student. And usually when we have people coming into Southwest Georgia, and wanting to take some tours of -- of things were some events happened during the Civil Rights Movement, I usually take them to the courthouse in Newton to show where Bobby's Hall's body was displayed.

During my years of growing up, the sheriff was L. Warren Johnson. He wanted to be called "The Gator," and that's how people referred to him 'cause he had a holler that would make you want to tremble. He also killed a lot of black people -- and Gator Johnson was the law in Baker County. And when I say that I mean no one, black or white, could ride through the County with an out-of-county tag. That means you could have a tag from anywhere else in Georgia -- you couldn't ride through Baker County without being stopped. And the Atlanta [Journal]-Constitution reported at one point that his take on the road was at least 150,000 dollars a year -- and that was during the 60s.

My father was a farmer. And growing up on the farm, my dream was to get as far away from the farm and Baker County as I could get. And picking cotton, picking cucumbers, shaking peanuts for a little while before they, you know... -- the older folk know what I'm talking about -- when you had to shake them and take them up to the pole [ph] and...put them around that, you know -- doing all that work on the farm, it will make you get an education more than anything else.

But I didn't want to just get an education. I wanted to leave the farm and Baker County. It was -- life was -- the older folk know what I'm talking about -- the segregation and the discrimination and the -- and the racist acts that we had to endure during those years made me just want to leave. And you know, we used to have people who'd leave and go north -- you all know how they come back talking and they come back looking. I learned later that some of those cars they drove home were rented.

But it made you want to go north, 'cause you thought they were free up there and you thought everybody was free in the North. So, my goal was not to even go to college in the South 'cause I, you know, I was always you find your husband at college. So, I didn't want to find one living in the South. I wanted to go to college in the North so I could get a husband from the North, never ever come back down here and live again.

But, you know, you can never say what you'll never do. And it was during March, my senior year in high school. I mean my father was just everything to us. I had four sisters -- I'm the oldest. My mother -- there are six of us, but my father wanted a son so bad. We were all girls. We all had boys' nickname[s]. I was "Bill." Now, he loved his girls but he wanted a son so bad. And when my sister was about -- my youngest sister was eight, he convinced my mother to try one more time for this boy.

So, to my surprise -- my senior year of high school -- I thought my mother was just sick. I didn't know what was wrong with her, you know, really worried. And one day my best friend at school said, "How's your mama doing?" I said, "She just doesn't seem to be getting any better." She said, "Girl, your daddy was up at the store yesterday giving out cigars. Your mama [is] going to have a baby." He told everyone that that baby was the son. And he was, in fact, having a new home built. He was the first person to get a loan on his own to build a house. He wanted to build a brick house so bad, but they told him a black man could not borrow money to build a brick house. They had to choose blocks, you know.

So -- and this new house that was being built -- there were five daughters -- there was this one room that was the boys' room -- his son's room. He told everybody it was a boy. And, in fact, it was painted blue. And he came -- he and my mother came to pick me up from school one day early to go to Albany with him to pick the furniture for this boys' room. He didn't live to see him. My brother was born two months after he died, in June of '65.

We started the Movement. But before I get there I need to tell you something I -- and I want to say this to the young people. You know, I told how I looked forward and I dreamt so much about moving north and from the farm, especially in the South, and I knew that after -- on the night of my father's death I felt I had to do something. I had to do something in answer to what had happened.

My father wasn't the first black person to be killed. He was a leader in the community. He wasn't the first to be killed by white men in the county. But I couldn't just let his death go without doing something in answer to what happened. I made the commitment on the night of my father's death, at the age of 17, that I would not leave the South, that I would stay in the South and devote my life to working for change. And I've been true to that commitment all of these 45 years.

You know, when you look at some of the things that I've done through the years and when you look at some of things that happened -- I went to school -- my -- my first two years at Fort Valley -- I know there are some Fort Valley graduates here too -- I did my first two years at Fort Valley but so much was happening back at home -- and then I met this man, I'll tell you a little about him -- that I transferred back to Albany State and did the last two years.

But two weeks after I went to school at Fort Valley, they called and told me that a bunch of white men had gathered outside of our home and burned the cross one night. Now, in the house was my mother, my four sisters, and my brother, who was born June 6 -- and this was September. That was all in that house that night. Well, my mother and one of my sisters went out on the porch. My mama had a gun. Another sister -- you know some of this stuff, it's like movies, some of the stuff that happened through the years -- I won't go into everything. I'll just tell you about this. One of my sisters got on the phone 'cause we had organized the movements starting June of '65, shortly -- not long after my father's death.

That's how I met my husband. He wasn't from the North....He's from up south in Virginia. But anyway my brother and my sisters got on the phone -- they called other black men in the county. And it wasn't long before they had surrounded these white men. And they had to keep one young man from actually using his gun on one of them. You probably would have read about it had that happened that night. But they actually allowed those men to leave. They -- They backed away and allowed them to get out of there.

But I won't go into some of the other stuff that happened that night, but do know that my mother and my sister were out on the porch with a gun, and my mother said, "I see you and I know who you are." She recognized some of them. She'll tell you that she became the first black elected official in Baker County just 11 years later, and she is still serving you all. She's chair of the board of education and she's been serving almost 34 years.

I didn't know how I would go about carrying out the commitment I made that night, but when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, [name of individual unclear 14:35] -- he was the one who came to Albany and started the movement there in 1961. And he stayed. You know, a lot of them went into the communities and they worked during the early part of the movement and they left. But he continued to stay in Southwest Georgia, and we've done a lot of stuff through the years....Some of the things that have happened to us, you probably be on the edge of your seat if I were to tell you about some of them. We've been in some very, very dangerous situations through the years, but we continue to work.

And, you know God is so good 'cause people like me don't get appointed to positions like State Director of Rural Development. They just don't get these kinds of positions 'cause I've been out there at everywhere grassroots level and I've paid some dues.

But when I...made the commitment years ago I didn't know how -- I didn't...I prayed about it that night and as our house filled with people I was back in one of the bedrooms praying and asking God to show me what I could do. I didn't have -- the path wasn't laid out that night. I just made the decision that I would stay and work. And -- And over the years things just happened.

And young people: I just want you to know that when you're true to what God wants you to do the path just opens up -- and things just come to you, you know. God is good -- I can tell you that.

When I made that commitment, I was making that commitment to black people -- and to black people only. But, you know, God will show you things and He'll put things in your path so that -- that you realize that the struggle is really about poor people, you know.

The first time I was faced with having to help a white farmer save his farm, he -- he took a long time talking, but he was trying to show me he was superior to me. I know what he was doing. But he had come to me for help. What he didn't know -- while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me -- was I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him.

I was struggling with the fact that so many black people have lost their farmland, and here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land. So, I didn't give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough so that when he -- I -- I assumed the Department of Agriculture had sent him to me, either that or the -- or the Georgia Department of Agriculture. And he needed to go back and report that I did try to help him.

So I took him to a white lawyer that we had -- that had...attended some of the training that we had provided, 'cause Chapter 12 bankruptcy had just been enacted for the family farmer. So I figured if I take him to one of them that his own kind would take care of him.

That's when it was revealed to me that, y'all, it's about poor versus those who have, and not so much about white -- it is about white and black, but it's not -- you know, it opened my eyes, 'cause I took him to one of his own and I put him in his hand, and felt okay, I've done my job. But, during that time we would have these injunctions against the Department of Agriculture and -- so, they couldn't foreclose on him. And I want you to know that the county supervisor had done something to him that I have not seen yet that they've done to any other farmer, black or white. And what they did to him caused him to not be able to file Chapter 12 bankruptcy.

So, everything was going along fine -- I'm thinking he's being taken care of by the white lawyer and then they lifted the injunction against USDA in May of '87 for two weeks and he was one of 13 farmers in Georgia who received a foreclosure notice. He called me. I said, "Well, go on and make an appointment at the lawyer. Let me know when it is and I'll meet you there."

So we met at the lawyer's office on -- on the day they had given him. And this lawyer sat there -- he had been paying this lawyer, y'all. That's what got me. He had been paying the lawyer since November, and this was May. And the lawyer sat there and looked at him and said, "Well, y'all are getting old. Why don't you just let the farm go?" I could not believe he said that, so I said to the lawyer -- I told him, "I can't believe you said that." I said, "It's obvious to me if he cannot file a Chapter 12 bankruptcy to -- to stop this foreclosure, you have to file an 11. And the lawyer said to me, "I'll do whatever you say....whatever you think" -- that's the way he put it. But he's paying him. He wasn't paying me any money, you know. So he said -- the lawyer said -- he would work on it.

And then, about seven days before that land would have been sold at the courthouse steps, the farmer called me and said the lawyer wasn't doing anything. And that's when I spent time there in my office calling everybody I could think of to try to see -- help me find the lawyer who would handle this. And finally, I remembered that I had gone to see one just 40 miles away in Americus with the black farmers. So, I --

[audio/video interrupted at source, duration unknown]

Well, working with him made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who don't, you know. And they could be black, and they could be white; they could be Hispanic. And it made me realize then that I needed to work to help poor people -- those who don't have access the way others have.

I want to just share something with you and...I think it helps to -- it -- you know, when I learned this, I'm like, "Oh, my goodness." You know, back in the late 17th and 18th century, black -- there were black indentured servants and white indentured servants, and they all would work for the seven years and -- and get their freedom. And they didn't see any difference in each other. Nobody worried about skin color. They married each other, you know. These were poor whites and poor blacks in the same boat, except they were slaves. But they were both slaves and both had their opportunity to work out on the slavery.

But then they started looking at the injustices that they faced and started then trying -- you know, the people with money -- you know, they started -- the...poor whites and poor blacks who were -- they -- you know, they married each other. They lived together. They were just like we would be. And they started looking at what was happening to them and decided we need to do something about it -- you know, about this. Well, the people with money, the elite, decided, "Hey, we need to do something here to divide them."

So that's when they made black people servants for life. That's when they put laws in place forbidding them to marry each other. That's when they created the racism that we know of today. They did it to keep us divided. And they -- it started working so well, they said, "Gosh, looks like we've come up on something here that can last generations." And here we are over 400 years later, and it's still working. What we have to do is get that out of our heads. There is no difference between us. The only difference is that the folks with money want to stay in power and, whether it's health care or whatever it is, they'll do what they need to do to keep that power, you know. It's always about money, y'all.

You know, I haven't seen such a mean-spirited people as I've seen lately over this issue of health care. Some of the racism we thought was buried. Didn't it surface? Now, we endured eight years of the Bush's and we didn't do the stuff these Republicans are doing because you have a black President.

I wanted to give you that little history, especially the young people. I want you to know they created it, you know, not just for us. But we got the brunt of it 'cause they needed to elevate what is just a little higher than us to make them think that we're so much better, and then we -- they would never work with us, you know, to try to change the situation that they were all in.

But where am I going with this? You know, I couldn't say 45 years ago -- I couldn't stand here and say what I'm saying -- what I will say to you tonight. Like I told you, God helped me to see that it's not just about black people -- it's about poor people. And I've come a long way. I knew that I couldn't live with hate, you know. As my mother has said to so many, "If we had tried to live with hate in our hearts, we'd probably be dead now."

But I've come to realize that we have to work together and -- you know, it's sad that we don't have a room full of white and blacks here tonight, 'cause we have to overcome the divisions that we have. We have to get to the point where, as Tony Morrison said, "Race exists but it doesn't matter." We have to work just as hard. I know it's -- you know, that division is still here, but our communities are not going to thrive -- you know, our children won't have the -- the communities that they need to be able to stay in and live in and -- and have a good life if we can't figure this out, you all. White people, black people, Hispanic people, we all have to do our part to make our communities a safe place, a healthy place, a good environment.

You know so that companies -- why would a company want to locate in some of these places? You know, I... -- it's so sad that, as I go around the State, people ask me, "Where are you from?" "Yeah, I'm living in Albany." "Oh, a lot of crime they're in." You know, nothing good you could say too much about Albany anymore, and...a lot of it is brought on by folks who live there, you know? People who live there. You read the paper -- If you read the paper and listen to the TV station there in Albany, you wouldn't want to go there and live. You know, people are still fighting each other -- worse, I believe, now. Least it was open during the Civil Rights Movement. It was a lick here and there -- and my husband got in the brunt of a lot of them. But now it's...really in such a way that it hurts 'cause it's going to keep the jobs away.

You know, you can go to a community and you can just about tell -- and I'm travelling all around where people work together, you know. You're not losing this many jobs. You're getting a few. You know, we have a beautiful country. We have a beautiful part of this State -- the southern part of this State -- but it's not thriving. And we need to figure out why. Well, we kind of know, but we need to work on why.

And -- And young folks, you know when I was growing up, you had to get home from school and go to the fields. But y'all don't have to do that no more. You should be excelling, you know.

Parents, you've got to set some goals for your children, you know. You cannot allow them not to try to become the best they could be, and not study....you know. Y'all must love working in the chicken house. (I know they closed for one year.)

But change has to start with us and...somehow we've got to make the other side of town work with us. We've got to make our communities what they need to be and our young people, I'm not picking on you, but you got to, but y'all got to...step up to the plate. You've got to step up to the plate. You are capable of being very, very smart people. You are capable of being those doctors and lawyers. You're capable of running your own business.

That's what -- one of things in the position I'm in...one of the things that really hurt -- one of the programs we had with some of the most money in it, you know, it's with business and industry. And I sit up their and I'm signing off on six million, three million, two million -- but who is it going to? Not one so far. And when I got a report on where we are with it, we're -- we're approaching 80 million dollars since October 1st. But not one dime to a black business -- not one, you know.

And I know as a young person you're thinking good times. But, hey, don't let life pass you by having a good time. You can enjoy it, but be serious, you know. And there are jobs in agriculture. There's...a program, the 1890 Scholars Program and they are -- they're connected with every 1890 Land-Grant institution, and -- and let me tell you what that is. That's the black Land-Grant institutions, and there are about 17 and Tuskegee.

They -- You can actually get a scholarship -- and Fort Valley State is the main grant in Georgia, the 1890; the 1862 is the white Land-Grant, that's the University of Georgia -- you can get a scholarship and every summer you work at one of those agencies while you are in school. And when you get out, it's a automatic job. Agencies like Natural Resource and Conservation Service (that's RCS), Farm Service Agency (that's the old Farmers Home Administration), Rural Development. Those are the major three. But there are others, so many other jobs, so many. Just in rural development nationwide, there are over 6000 employees. But you can go up there to Washington, to the Department of Agriculture -- it's on both sides of the street.

In Rural Development, there are 129 employees and guess how many of them are people of color? Anybody want to take a guess -- that's in Georgia? I got -- there are 129 in my agency. How many? It's more than two. Little more than 12. There are less than 20 of us. We have six area offices in the State and subarea offices and when I look at who's coming up the line in the agencies -- in the agency, there are not many of us, 'cause we think "agriculture" is a bad word. We think it's working in the fields. Some of the best paying jobs you ever want to have, okay?

I won't keep at you with that kind of stuff. But let -- just know that you can -- there's another point I want to make, though. You know, coming out of slavery black folks used to help each other. That's how they built the schools that we have. You know, that's how they bought the land that we have -- that we have about lost all of it. You know that our people had over 15 million acres, and, as black people, [we] have less than 2 million acres of farm land left. And we will sell it for nothing -- for nothing.

You know, I was helping a family here recently: 515 acres of land, never had a drop of debt on it since the grandfather bought it years ago and he -- he died in 1974. And two cousins up in the North, guess what they decided? They tried to force a sale of every acre of it. And they wanted that. One of their aunts spent all of her life on the land. She was 93 years old when she died. And she died after those "For Sale" signs went up out there on that farm -- auction sign went up on the farm. She was in the hospital. The next month she was dead. That was January -- she was dead by October.

But we kept working at it. And we found some honest lawyers -- they were white. I wish I could say that about all lawyers, especially black lawyers, but they will nickel and dime you to death. I don't have -- sorry -- I don't have two dozen pennies for most lawyers. But anyway that land has been saved, you know.

But they were trying to force a sale of all of it. They'll eventually get 62 acres of the 515. And guess what? They have a white man already lined up to buy it. And it's the man on [unclear 34:41], which is what he wanted.

But you can -- what I want to say to you: You can do good. And y'all going to be smart. You're going to go on and -- and get good jobs. Look, reach back and help somebody. That's what we were taught. That's what our folk did, you know. It looks like the more -- the better we do, the more free we are, the more divided we become, you know. It looks like we don't care about each other any more. You know, that's why kids can just, you know -- y'all know what happened in the day. He did something wrong, everybody in the community got you, you know. Well that does happen anymore. And we have to get back to that.

If we going to rebuild our communities, if we going to get with all of the problems we have in our communities, it will take all of us working together to solve them. We can't turn our backs. And you never know who you're helping. You could be helping the second black President of the United States.

Now, I need to tell you a little bit about Rural Development. There -- There are at least 40 programs at Rural Development, but I'll just talk to you briefly about a couple of them. The main one is the Housing Program. We have more money for single-family housing, direct loans -- and that's loans from the agency -- than we've ever had in the history of the program.

But we having trouble getting that money out the door and guess why: credit issues. They had to send me extra help from Washington to try to help because of the stimulus money. See, we have more money for direct loans for the low -- very low -- income and moderate income individuals. And guess what? Those loans -- it's a 100% loan. You can buy the land and build a house -- 100% loan. No private mortgage insurance, those loans are directly from USDA. And folks will let a little cell phone and other stuff you don't even need keeping you from being able to -- to acquire an asset that you really need -- which is a home. We've got to be more careful about our credit.

I was talking with a young lady that's actually a relative in a major position, and -- and she -- she was letting the hospital -- the hospital was getting ready to... garnish her check. She works for the city. And I said, "Do you understand that goes on your credit?" See, [unclear 37:46] in the hospital counted on, you know, she -- it was after she had her child. I said, "You could have told them 'I...can pay 25 dollars a month'" and they would have accepted that. But she didn't make that step. So now here they were getting ready to start taking it from her pay. And that goes on her credit. And I said, "You want a house one day -- you'll never be able to get a house." Now, she does some foolish stuff with her money. I won't go into some of the foolish stuff. But I -- I want to say that to -- to us.

And young people: You know, that's one of the things I remember from my father. He used to talk to us about business and credit. And what he said to us: "You need to always keep a good credit record. You may not have any money, but you can always get some." And we need to keep that in mind. We need to stop trying to get things we don't need, you know. Take the time to get the money -- you know, to save the money for what you want -- and you can do that. You can do that. You can do that. You don't have to have everything right now, okay?

We also have in addition to the direct loans from the agency, we are...the guaranteed loan program for housing. And...those loans are for people with a slightly higher income. That -- That program has been so successful that we are about to run out of money. And I'm talking about all over the country. I'm talking about billions. And in Georgia, you know in 2008, they made like 1265 guaranteed loans. Last year, we did almost 4500. And this year, if the money had not run out, if it doesn't run out -- I'm hoping they going to get some more -- we might do as many as 12,000, you know. If there was ever a time for people to become home owners, now is the time. And you can thank President Obama for that.

And I said something briefly to you about the -- the business and industry money. We've got to get our act together. We got to start thinking about becoming entrepreneurs, you know. And young people you need to think of that as you -- as you mature. You know, get some education. Learn how to do it right and then think of going into business. Until our communities look at how we can grow our own businesses, we'll be -- we'll forever be at the mercy of these companies that will come in, use up the tax credits, and leave.

Hey, didn't y'all lose the chicken in the street, here. They will [use] up your tax credit and move on to another community and use theirs too, and leave you high and dry. We can do some -- you know, you can think of creating your businesses and making those dollars flow over and over in your own community.

There's also the Repair Loan Program for -- for senior citizens 62 and over who are lower income. You can qualify for a grant of 7500 dollars. Or, if you have repayment ability -- and those payments can...some of them are very low, 25 dollars a month -- you get a one percent loan up to 25 -- 20,000 dollars. And the -- the $7500 is only for helping safety issues, you know, like something with your bathroom or something else in the house. But if you wanted to do some renovations up to $20,000, you can get a one percent loan to be able to do that.

I won't go into the other programs because a lot of them [are] different types programs for cities. And, you know, I had a visit from the mayor and your city manager and -- and I've thought about y'all a lot and I'm not -- my commitment is to the rural area. My commitment even more so is to south Georgia. That's were I'm from. I can't say that up in north Georgia. But they don't seem to have a problem getting the money.

Okay, I won't keep going on tonight, but just let me say there is a saying: "Life is a grindstone; but...whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us," you know.

Thank you.

So it turns out that Shirley Sherrod, like John Lewis, is one of the remaining links to the great period of the Civil Rights era that began back in the 1950s, if not earlier, and sadly came to an end in the second half of the 1960s. The struggle around Albany, Georgia in which her father took part was well-publicized and attracted the attention and participation of Dr. Martin Luther King (indeed, although I am far from certain of this, it may have had something to do with King's famous arrest in the fall of 1960, which had a huge impact on the Presidential election.) One might hope that this controversy will lead to the re-opening of her father's murder case. Her husband Charles Sherrod was, along with John Lewis, one of the black SNCC leaders who left the organization in the mid-1960s when it took a black nationalist turn. Shirley was too young to have participated actively in these events, but her father's death convinced her to reamin in the South and as her speech makes clear, her experiences brought her back to the roots of the civil rights movement. As I have noted here many times, one of the great tragedies of the last 45 years was the movement of many white southerners who had voted Democratic on economic grounds from 1936 through 1960 into the Republican camp--partly because the Republicans began appealing to racism and partly because the Democratic Party stopped doing any good. Shirley Sherrod, from my own generation, illustrates how that situation could conceivably change once again--but only if state and federal governments actually find ways to improve the lives of poorer whites and blacks, as Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson hoped to do.


Anonymous said...

I haven't decided yet which is the most horrifying, the fact that some right wing hack can publish a lie like he did and get away with it or the fact that the idiots on the left are STILL so political-correct cowed that they fired the woman without any investigation.

Is this NOT exactly what the Germans did? Listen to lies and propaganda from one side while those who should've known better sat back and allowed the lies to become "fact" without any hearing or investigation?

Anonymous said...

Even after reading the whole speech, it still and even more shows that there is her kind and her own,
and someone who is not either.

No doubt about it.

And perhaps that is totally acceptable to you.

To me it is not.

To each his own.

M. Doran said...

David, thanks for excavating this. You write that Fox News distorted her words, but one of the more striking features of this episode is that Fox hadn't started to beat the drum on it in earnest. The video, for instance, didn't air on Fox until after Sherrod was forced out. It seems to have been fear of Fox that prompted Vilsack to jump the gun. I find that fact interesting for what it reveals about the dynamics between the media and the White House today.

David Kaiser said...

I allowed the second comment above to allow the poster to embarrass him or herself.

Mike, will I be seeing you this coming week?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the posting. Times were brutal in a very direct way back then for black people. I have read a lot about the tactic used nowadays of impoverishing blacks and ghettoizing and "forcing" them into crme and the revolving prison door where so many go in and out their whole lives( a good job industry for rural whites by the way). Racism conitinues but in a more subtle manner. White flight was what the suburbs were invented for, to create the ghettos in the cities(and sell oil and cars adn appliances after the war machine ran down). The whites up north escaped the blacks who came north to escape the poverty and racism in the south. Maybe it would be better, God help me for saying this, to have left it as it was, taking your chances with brutal racism and a stable middle class black world in the south, than crime ridden ghettoes for maybe 1/3 of blacks and maybe 1/3 moving upwardly middle class. People, white and black, as the lady notes are having their lives torn apart by lawyers, credit sharking banks and the like. It is all about money in the end, but ethnicity counts for a lot amongst people and the rich use that to divide and rule us all the more.

Here where I live we had a referendum for a more just school system the other day. The poor are kept from rising up to a better education (I live in Germany) by a school system where they separate the children after the 4th grade to go college track or "other". So the poor working class and lots of immigrants live in neighborhoods here together and don't get into the college track schools ("Gymnasium") as the kids are tracked according to origin of parents as they are too young to show their own talent yet at 10. So the government wanted to change that but the rich upper middle class whites from the good neighbourhoods got up a referendum and stopped the plans to keep the kids together till the 6th grade , a watered down compromise, at first was planned till the 9th grade. The sad thing is the people from poor neighbourhoods hardly bothered to vote, because education is not their thing I guess and they don't read the "broadsheets". Only the rich neighbourhoods voted in numbers. So the referendum won, the mayor resigned. He outed himself (gay) some years ago to block being blackmailed by our hardline law and order interior minister who he then threw out. He was a good mayor. The sort of people who knows what it is like , even though from a rich white background, to be different and to suffer because of that.

Oh yeah, this sort of racism, middle class white fears of others, is going on everywhere in the world. The caste system in India is I believe about the same thing as she described to divide and rule the people by inventing fake differences (like in Southern USA 400 years ago), as if the rule of Karma had anything to do with your having to clean toilets and then your father after you. The rich will always cook up some excuse to keep people enslaved in some way.

Me and my wife being born in spring and summer 1965 (she is Russian , I am American) and we realize how much life has changed in parallel everywhere regardless of political system or race, how everybody has gotten corrupt and greedy and how everything has started falling apart due to all this. This sort of thing has convinced us that this cycylical theory is correct. Maybe next time round the racism will not be so important, like it was this time (blacks in USA, Jews in Europe). Probably it will be religious war or something (islam- another example of rich OECD countries separating a group of poor countries out to get their resources, calling them terrorists) that will bring us all down and the poverty in the world killing us all to make a few people rich, whether Chinese Indian or European, the banksters.

Amy B said...

Ah, racism, the big elephant in the room that everyone wants to ignore and pretend like it isn't there. This speech was shown in it's entirety on CNN. I watched the speech. (She is a pretty good speaker too.) I suppose my favorite part of the speech was when Shirley talked about her realization that it isn't really about race, the problem is all about the poor vs the haves. Actually racism is most prevalent among the poor or working class poor. The reason for that is very simple. These are the people who are fighting over whatever scraps are left. Poverty breeds racism. Do you really think that the CEO's are worried about illegal immigrants taking their jobs from them? Racism is really a symptom of the bigger issue in this country. We are losing our middle class and most of the wealth in this country is in the hands of the top elites. Until we have better economic opportunties for all, regardless of race, there will be racism. Shirley Sherrod is a very smart woman. She gets it.

Anonymous said...

It's regrettable that so many of the mass media's coverage and commentary on this event has focused either upon the Obama Administration's mishandling of it or on the public's discomfort talking about race. In my opinion, the real story is about the deliberate distortion of what she said and the mass media's willingness to report the distorted version as fact before attempting to figure out what the facts were. Your blog post's common-sense suggestion (with attribution to Lewis Carroll)--to start by reading the whole speech, wouldn't be so startling if any of the highly-paid network moguls already were aware of it.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Kaiser,
I've been a fan of yours since finding your blog as a result of finding you through snopes.com as I was trying to refute that horrible "Hitler" email. Reading this article about Shirley Sherrod, and being able to read the full text of her speech, and see the truth... I admit, I'm in tears. I admire Shirley (I'm a "white woman" and she's right, there isn't a real barrier between us.). What Shirley has done, and hopefully will continue to do, with her life is inspiring. She has my respect, admiration, and prayers. She's a great example of what a person can do when they find their courage and voice. Not suprised that the bigoted idiot tried to crush her.I've got them in my own extended family, and they're horrors. Thank you Mr. Kaiser, for your integrity, for shining light into dark places, for revealing truth for others. Bless you in your work, and I hope wonderful things happen for Shirley.
Respectfully, KM

Wes Volkenant said...

David - thank you for posting all of Mrs. Sherrod's speech to the NAACP. That's the context to remember, which Anonymous 10:37AM seems to forget. This was a black woman, an official of the Obama Administration, with long ties to the NAACP, speaking to an audience of friends and colleagues, people who primarily share her cultural roots and identity.

This was no "us vs. them" speech. This was no "my people" and those "others" speech. There is a reason why this speech and the resulting week of political and cultural firestorm has prompted a series of apologies when read in full and read in context. This is also the reason President Obama has no reason to once again weigh in with the state of race relations in America. It was appropriate for him to do so during the campaign, because the race card had to be dealt with - it was the proverbial elephant in the room during that period of the campaign. It was appropriate for him to do so in the Gates incident, because Gates is a personal acquaintance, he addressed the circumstance publicly, and it was a police-minority confrontation that called for the black man in the White House to step in and mediate the cultural differences that have been played in communities across America for the past two or three generations.

Shirley Sherrod does not represent that particular umbrage so much as she represents a common labor crisis in America today - employees being fired at will for the wrong reasons without contractual protections, such as having Weingarten Rights or the right to arbitrate dismissal in an independent hearing.

That it results from reactions to a right wing instigator who played the "reverse racial discrimination card" that forced a black woman administrator from her job in a government led by a black President is incidental. The instigator succeeded in instigating and creating drama, and taking the Administration off-topic once again.

But this was an incident with a human casualty named Shirley Sherrod. I don't have any Shirley Sherrods in my life. What a joy to read her speech and to see her life unfold, and her awakening to the depths of issues around her. Too many of us stay in our life silos and never get that chance to awaken to broader truths. To see the economic evils that she'd only seen played out on black people placed in the broader context of poor people - black, white, Asian, African-American, immigrant - is to see that her speech to a room of primarily black people was in itself representative of the meaning of Barack Obama's election as President. Black, white, Asian, immigrant - Barack Obama is "our" President, not "their" President. And his Administration and its officials have a duty to represent all Americans - and that's the message I hear as I read the Shirley Sherrod speech.

And to right wing instigators who hide behind their anonymity and express their horrifying trash in these comment sections - grow a pair and name yourself, as I am in closing.
Wes Volkenant

Anonymous said...

Much more important guest contribution - thanks to WikiLeaks!

Leaks provide ground-level account of Afghan war


Bozon said...

Great stuff.
Great that you found it.

I took a brief look at NPS, out of curiosity, where I had found an important article to me, accidentally, but this is not there it seems.

(I guess it is not the type of thing they would have posted anyway, especially after the events in question....)

I plugged this post on mine.

All the best,
Gerald Meaders

Anonymous said...

Something that has really distressed me about this whole thing is the prompt firing of Shirley Sherrod for something she did not do. Perhaps the person who did not do his job by getting all the facts before firing her is the one who should have been fired. What a tragedy!! And, I think it is unlikely that President Obama is going to take her up on her invitation to visit her in the South and see firsthand what she is talking about. Can you imagine the heyday faux news and right wingers who want Obama to fail would have with that by emphasizing our black President's interest in black issues? I live in the South and I know that there still exists strong racial prejudices here which also is reflected in negative attitudes toward our President. Sad, sad, sad.

Kate Anne said...

Awesome story -- it deserves being out there. Thank you for posting --it confirms my opinion that Shirley Sherrod is a real hero / heroine.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the full text.

Shirley Sharrod's husband's first name is Charles. He was just finishing college when the sit-in's began in spring, 1960, and went to Nashville to help and participate. Nashville was led by James Lawson, a black Methodist who had just returned from several years studying Gandhi's methods in India. Lawson had been a draft refuser CO, and served time in Federal Prison as a CO before his trip to India, and was teaching, studying for a PhD at Vanderbilt (First black in the Dept. of Religion) -- but he also taught Non-Violence to students from Fisk and American Baptist Seminary (where John Lewis was a Freshman), and it was mostly Lawson's Gandhi-style class that led the Nashville Movement. Charles Sherrod joined this group during 59-60. Nashville's protests led to major changes through negotiations (Integrated lunch counters, black women could try on clothes in Department Stores, Blacks would be addressed by courtesy titles, etc). It would be the Nashville group that would organize the conference at Shaw University in the spring of 1960 where SNCC was founded. Both Charles Sherrod and John Lewis became Freedom Riders together, in a test of Interstate Commerce orders eliminating segregation in busses, trains and planes, sponsored by CORE and the Fellowship of Reconcillation. Sherrod then moved on to Albany Georgia as a SNCC organizer, and brought Martin Luther King and SCLC into Albany during the long struggle there.

While Charles Sherrod made Albany his HQ over the next few years, he would be with SNCC and with Martin Luther King in Birmingham, and later in Selma. His speciality was training large groups of new volunteers in the principles of Non-Violent Direct Action. He was always an exponent of "Jail-no Bail" -- meaning the point was to fill the jails up, and not accept bail until successful negotiations were complete. In 1960 Tennessee had him on a road work chain gang for a month, as he refused to pay a fine.

During the Albany Project, a college friend of mine volunteered to go South and work for SNCC, and she was arrested in Albany, indicted for the crime of Treason against the State of Georgia, and sentenced to Death. Her dad was a labor lawyer in New York, so got her a very high quality appeals lawyer, but it took the Federal Courts four months to tell the State of Georgia that there was no such crime as Treason against Georgia. She sat on Death Row for those four months. When White Jewish Women from New York joined hands with SNCC -- in Albany's mind it was Treason. (con't)

Marlee said...

Dr. Kaiser, thank you for posting the whole speech. To Anonymous 10:37 There has always been 'this kind' and 'that kind' and those who don't fit in either group. What would be nice is if all groups were to treat one another equally and for one group of people to not try to manipulate or outright destroy the other.

Anonymous said...

Your mean-spirited comment about allowing a dissenting post only for the purpose of embarrassing the person who posted it speaks volumes about you. I thought yours would be an interesting blog to follow as we appear to be ideologically opposed but your belittling manner is quite distasteful.