Shirley Sherrod is not a racist. She is a courageous champion of equal rights and dignity for all people. She has had to overcome major obstacles in her personal struggle against racial bias in her life and in her heart.
When she was young, her father was murdered — some say lynched — by people who to this day remain untried and unpunished. Sherrod had to battle against the bitterness that can poison the spirit when you suffer that sort of injury. Many succumb to the hate and desire for revenge that appears justified to young minds.
James Chaney was one of the three civil rights workers murdered by racist extremists in Mississippi in 1964. His younger brother never recovered. He was convicted and sentenced for various violent crimes as he attempted to give an “eye for an eye.” Malcolm X was assassinated. His grandson turned his pain back on himself. He set fire to his grandmother’s apartment. It killed Dr. Betty Shabazz, Malcolm’s widow.
Sherrod dealt with her pain differently. She went to college, joined the movement and tried to eradicate the hatred that had killed her father. We first met Sherrod back in the ’60s. She and her husband,
Charles, organized the Southwest Georgia Project, modeled in part on the Israeli kibbutz.
The plan was simple — eliminate poverty by developing a 5,000-acre farm where poor white and black sharecroppers could collectively work and own the product of their labor. Sharecroppers, of course, had worked the same land for generations but had never benefited.
A hundred or so of us in the movement volunteered each year to help plant and pick the crops. We were fed, housed and inspirited with the satisfaction of knowing we were helping people help themselves. The volunteers were black and white, mostly white. Sherrod fed us — our bodies with collard greens, fried chicken and our souls with freedom songs and stories of the Albany movement in Georgia.
The malicious manipulation of Sherrod ’s speech before the NAACP presenting her as a bigot when in fact she was trying to show us a path to overcome bigotry is a travesty. Her subsequent firing is an example of what happens when we listen to the hyenas yapping at the edge of the herd. Fortunately, the Obama administration has seen the error of its ways.Unfortunately the so-called news journalist who fabricated this event in the first place have not.