Shirley Sherrod’s Message: Racism Is Used By Those In Power To Divide and Suppress The Poor

Benjamin Todd Jealous, the CEO of the NAACP, must feel pretty ridiculous.  He wrote a harshly worded statement condemning a fellow NAACP activist, Shirley Sherrod, for showing racism.  As it turns out, it was all a mistake.  Shirley Sherrod’s message, in fact, is:  racism is simply a device by those in power to divide the poor and disadvantaged.

Jealous evidently saw a short video clip taken from an hour long speech given by Shirley Sherrod to a NAACP chapter. In that clip, Sherrod apparently admits that, 24 years earlier, a racist motive caused her to mistreat a white farmer who asked for help from the government agricultural agency where she was employed.

In response to the video clip, Jealous went ballistic.  In his letter (see below) Jealous calls Sherrod’s behavior appalling — shameful, intolerable — and says that he agrees that she deserved to be pushed out of her government job.

Jealous is now apologizing to Sherrod and is urging that she be restored to her government job.  But the fact that initially Jealous released his harsh comments via an official statement is amazing. Evidently, he did zero research before condemning a fellow NAACP activist.  I have to think that NAACP members don’t appreciate that the credibility of their CEO has taken a major hit.  I’ve got to wonder if this demonstration of total lack of judgment will lead to the eventual resignation of Jealous as CEO of the NAACP.

The full 43 minutes of Sherrod’s speech (see below) is well worth listening to.   She tells of her childhood — the KKK burning crosses in their yard — and explains that the very day of that speech was the anniversary of the funeral of her father, a man she adored. She explains that her father died a violent death at the hand of a white man, a man who was never prosecuted.  She was 17 at the time.  She points that in her early life, living in South George, there were a lot of reasons for her to hate whites, but her point is that, by the grace of God, her heart and mind were changed.  She says her experience with the white farmer, that she speaks about in the short clip, was a life changing experience that helped open her eyes. She eventually worked tirelessly on the farmer’s behalf.

It’s a touching speech, in which Sherrod shares her personal growth, with the goal, I think, to move some of her listeners toward her new point of view. She is trying to make a point:  It’s about poverty, not racism. Sherrod seems authentic, down to earth, likable. Maybe this turn in her life may help her launch a political or speaking career.

This is the initial statement written by the CEO of NAACP, Benjamin Todd Jealous:

Jealous issued NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous issued the following statement today after learning of the resignation of Shirley Sherrod of the United States Department of Agriculture:

“Since our founding in 1909, the NAACP has been a multi-racial, multi-faith organization that– while generally rooted in African American communities– fights to end racial discrimination against all Americans.

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.

We thank those who brought this to our national office’s attention, as there are hundreds of local fundraising dinners each year.

Sherrod’s behavior is even more intolerable in light of the US Department of Agriculture’s well documented history of denying opportunities to African American, Latino, Asian American, and Native American farmers, as well as female farmers of all races. Currently, justice for many of these farmers is being held up by Congress. We would hope all who share our outrage at Sherrod’s statements would join us in pushing for these cases to be remedied.

The NAACP will continue to advance the ideals of America and fight for freedom, justice and fairness for all Americans.”

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