Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shirley Sherrod Gives First Speech Since Controversy

As I mentioned in a previous post, former head of Georgia Rural Development for the USDA Shirley Sherrod spoke Saturday night in Gainesville, Georgia.  The occasion was a banquet celebrating the 60th Annivesary of the Newtown Florist Club, a Land Use Clinic client.  There was a good turn-out for Sherrod's first speech since her ouster and the attempted re-hire by the Secretary of Agriculture.  (Read the latest press re: the government e-mails about the controversy, recently obtained through a FOIA request.)

Sherrod's speech was deeply personal.  She described the unpunished murder of her father by a white farmer in the 1960s, and how that event made her devote her life to changing things in the South.  Her feelings about her father's murder, and the extensive discrimination suffered by black farmers in Southeast Georgia, at first lead her to hesitate in helping a white farmer (when she was running a non-profit agency, before her time at USDA).  In telling the story of how she overcame that hesitation to help the white farmer, she became open to the accusations of racism that lead to her ouster, even though she was trying to make the point that, for her, rural development is not about race but about poverty.

Sherrod says she shared that story about the farmer back in July to show others that if she could overcome her own personal demons, then so could others. The story was meant to be used as an example and encouragement for others to come together.

"We can't just work in isolated groups, (all races) need to work together to make the changes in the world that we need to make," Sherrod said.

"It's not about black people by themselves and it's not about white people by themselves. Let's all come together as a community."

I came away with the impression that she plans to write a book about her life, and she vowed at the end of her speech to continue to speak out about racism.  It will be remarkable to see where she goes next, in her already remarkable life.

Jamie Baker Roskie

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