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Shirley Sherrod Has Her Say About Obama, Fox News and Andrew Breitbart

4 years ago
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SAN DIEGO – Andrew Breitbart was invited to appear at the National Association of Black Journalists convention here on Thursday. Word was that he initially planned to attend. He didn't; Shirley Sherrod did. "I wish he had come here," the former USDA official said of the man who posted the video clip that triggered a week of political and personal turmoil. "I really would like to talk with him."

"He'll definitely hear from me," Sherrod said, adding that she "definitely" plans to sue the conservative blogger for circulating a small excerpt of her remarks to an NAACP event that purported to show her racism toward a white farmer. "He had to know that he was targeting me," she said of Breitbart.

In its unedited entirety, her speech told a different story, one of her father's murder in her native Georgia by a white man who was never brought to justice, her pledge to remain in the South to help blacks and her realization that "It's not about race. It's about those who have and those who do not." With Sherrod's help, the white farmer kept his land, and he came forward to defend Sherrod against the attacks that led to her firing.

Apologies, a new job offer from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and a phone call from President Barack Obama followed. Sherrod said on Thursday that she is still considering the position of deputy director of the office of advocacy and outreach at the USDA. She has questions. She said there are "real problems" of discrimination within the USDA, and not just with black farmers, many of whom are still awaiting the settlement awarded for decades of unfair treatment from the agency. (It won't be long, she said, before "we don't have any black people helping to produce the food we eat.")

But while she hasn't given USDA an answer, Sherrod has some advice, going all the way to President Obama. She wondered if those civil rights activists who were beaten and shot at -- such as her husband, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizer Charles Sherrod, in the audience looking on -- "try too much to shield that hurt and pain from young people." She has invited the president to accompany her through southwest Georgia, so he can see the struggle is not over, whether it's over land or equity in the schools and justice system. There's progress as well, she said, adding, "He needs a little lesson." The president or any visitor will see, she said, that while we "don't get along the way we should, we get along better than we used to."

In an answer to a question about the continuing need for organizations such as the NAACP and NABJ, she said, "You don't know what it's like for people in remote areas of rural Georgia who continue to have things happen to them." She said all races need someone to turn to.

In a speech to the National Urban League on Thursday, President Obama talked about Sherrod, and the "bogus controversy" that led to her firing. He called her "an exemplary woman whose experiences mark both the challenges we have faced and the progress that we've made."

Speaking in front of this group of journalists, Sherrod spoke positively of efforts by CNN and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to get the complete story. (CNN anchor Don Lemon was on a panel that questioned Sherrod from the stage; an excerpt from his report on her life was shown.) But she said Fox News will "never get an interview from me." She said, They had their chance to get the truth and "they were not interested."

After initial reports ran, Sherrod said she received lots of hate mail, including calls on her home and personal cell phone numbers. What sustained her, she said, was support from people she has worked with -- from every ethnic group -- throughout the country. Their e-mails that "made me proud." They were beginning to mobilize, she said, even before the complete videotape of her speech was released.

In their work, she said, she sees the progress the country can make if we treat each other the way we need to be treated. "I truly believe we can come together," she said.
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