Shirley Sherrod visits Omaha

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October 29th, 2010

Shirley Sherrod (Photo courtesy USDA, Wikimedia Commons)

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Omaha, NE – Shirley Sherrod, the former Georgia State Director of Rural Development with the U.S Department of Agriculture, was the keynote speaker at the annual Freedom Fund Banquet of the NAACP’s Omaha branch. In July, Sherrod became famous after being forced to resign from the USDA in a highly publicized case of misinterpreted remarks about race. Sherrod said the incident highlighted an inability to talk about race in America. “You know we can’t deal with race if we don’t talk about racism. We have to talk about it and if we feel free to talk about it, I think we’ll start developing ways to deal with it.”

The incident that led to Sherrod’s firing involved comments she had made about a poor white farmer in 1986, who she at first was reluctant to help. The story was in fact one about racial reconciliation, but were taken out of context, appearing racist, by blogger Andrew Breitbart.

The story shared Sherrod’s experience of her father’s murder in Baker County, Georgia, by a white farmer when she was 17 years old. Though there were three black witnesses, she said, no one was ever prosecuted for his murder. That led Sherrod to be reluctant to assist a poor white farmer, who approached her for help through the USDA. But she said that farmer’s story opened her eyes to the difference between the “haves” and “have nots” in this country. She overcame her own doubts, and was ultimately praised by the farmer and his family for the help she provided them.

Sherrod said poverty is a major issue in this country, one of the wealthiest nations in the world. “It’s going to take a concrete [sic] effort of the entire community to work on the issues of poverty. We shouldn’t be satisfied as long as we know there are people who cannot buy the food they need to eat or even provide for themselves in terms of a place to stay.”

Sherrod said the Obama administration apologized to her after her dismissal became public and offered her a high level internal advocacy position, which she declined.

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