Her father was murdered by a white man in front of three witnesses in 1965, but a white grand jury in Baker County, Georgia had no interest in seeking justice for a black family. She claims another relative was lynched by the local sheriff, a former white sharecropper named Warren "Gator" Johnson. Her relative was just one one of Johnson's many victims.
Shirley Sherrod had every reason to hate white people. No one could blame her for harboring venom in her heart against those who oppressed her people and ripped her family apart when she was just 17 years old. Months after her father's murder, while she was away at college, white men gathered on her family's lawn and burned a cross. Only the presence of guns in the home and the arrival of armed friends and relatives brought the night to a bloodless halt. It could have been very bad. The family would have been entirely justified in fleeing to cities in the North, as so many black families did at that shameful time in American history.
But instead of fleeing the rural south, Sherrod's family dug in.
Shirley's mother became the first black elected official in Baker County. Shirley herself became an advocate for black farmers.
And so she can be forgiven for her hesitancy to help out a bigoted white farmer, a story that was partially revealed in a one of two video segments posted in a story on Big Government this past Monday.
The first video segment, just 2:36 long, is prefaced by this paragraph at Big Government:
In the first video, Sherrod describes how she racially discriminates against a white farmer. She describes how she is torn over how much she will choose to help him. And, she admits that she doesn’t do everything she can for him, because he is white. Eventually, her basic humanity informs that this white man is poor and needs help. But she decides that he should get help from “one of his own kind”. She refers him to a white lawyer.Sherrod’s racist tale is received by the NAACP audience with nodding approval and murmurs of recognition and agreement. Hardly the behavior of the group now holding itself up as the supreme judge of another groups’ racial tolerance.
Andrew Breitbart of Big Government notes that this segment both shows discrimination from Sherrod and the NAACP audience, but the simply fact of the matter is that we lack the entire context of what occurred during this speech, despite the very first line of the article where he claims "Context is everything."
The NAACP and U.S. Department of Agriculture apparently did not require context, either.
The US Department of Agriculture demanded Sherrod's resignation within hours of the video posting:
"There is zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA, and I strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a written statement. "We have been working hard through the past 18 months to reverse the checkered civil rights history at the department and take the issue of fairness and equality very seriously."
With the speculated blessing of the White House itself, USDA officials badgered Sherrod into pulling over to the side of the road and sending in her resignation via Blackberry.
Eager to commit to damage control, the NAACP quickly pounced as well:
We concur with US Agriculture Secretary Vilsack in accepting the resignation of Shirley Sherrod for her remarks at a local NAACP Freedom Fund banquet.Racism is about the abuse of power. Sherrod had it in her position at USDA. According to her remarks, she mistreated a white farmer in need of assistance because of his race.We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers.Her actions were shameful. While she went on to explain in the story that she ultimately realized her mistake, as well as the common predicament of working people of all races, she gave no indication she had attempted to right the wrong she had done to this man.The reaction from many in the audience is disturbing. We will be looking into the behavior of NAACP representatives at this local event and take any appropriate action.
It was only yesterday that the NAACP found and then posted the entire 43:14 speech. It somewhat mitigates the damage done to the reputation of Sherrod in the brief clip released earlier. It shows that while Sherrod was racist in the beginning of her relationship with this white farm family, she grew to champion their case and became great friends with them.
The full video provides a great deal of context, and shows that Sherrod grew as a person, and that her story with this family evolved into one of redemption.
That said, Sherrod admitted racist feelings, and those feelings impacted the level of service she was willing to provide in their first meeting. Perhaps more important, however, was that the NAACP audience seemed to nod in agreement at the tale of racism she related, well before they knew it would be a story of redemption.
The NAACP attempted to reverse position once they saw the full video, claiming that they were "snookered" by Breitbart and Fox News. It is a dishonest, irresponsible claim. No one forced the NAACP to condemn Sherrod. They chose, of their own free will, to condemn Sherrod in the harshest of terms before reviewing the full video that it was determined they had in their possession the entire time. They have shamed themselves, and despicably, tried to blame others for their failure of judgement.
The USDA is now attempting to walk back their emphatic attacks against Sherrod, with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stating he would reconsider her forced resignation, a resignation that Sherrod was forced by pressure from the White House. For her part, the wounded Sherrod is not sure she wants to return.
Who can blame her?
There are lessons for all involved here, for the actors in this real-life drama and those of us who watched it as spectators.
We learned Shirley Sherrod harbored racist thoughts that were well deserved considering the barbaric treatment her family suffered at the hands of murderous whites in rural south Georgia where she grew up. We also learned that she has mostly overcome those emotions, if not entirely. She's a good person, but she not perfect. How many of us are? She deserves her life and reputation back.
Andrew Breitbart presumably learned that context is more important than he realized. The small clips of video he promoted did not tell the whole story, and painted Shirley Sherrod in the worst possible light. At the exact same time, he was dead-on accurate when he pointed out that, "the NAACP audience with nodding approval and murmurs of recognition and agreement. Hardly the behavior of the group now holding itself up as the supreme judge of another groups’ racial tolerance."
He may have misfired on Sherrod, but he caught the NAACP with broadsides, going and coming. Likewise, Sherrod holds the NAACP at fault.
Likewise, the Obama Administration once against proved it's propensity for immaturity and pettiness. According to Sherrod herself it was the White House breathing down the necks of USDA officials that forced her to pull her car off the road and resign via Blackberry so that the Administration could play politics with her life, "throwing her under the bus," as if someone in her relatively low position should be the focus of a government battling two wars, economic ruin, and ecological disaster. Tom Vilsack looks like a schmuck. So does the President.
Are there any "winners" here? Perhaps politically Breitbart can score this as a triumph, as his posting allowed the NAACP and the Administration an opportunity to make fools of themselves, though that victory came at the expense of Shirley Sherrod suffering the fallout of this political battle.
Civilians are always casualties of war.
Even political ones.
I'll let you be the judge of whether or not the damage was worth it.