Context to the Shirley Sherrod Controversy

Shirley Sherrod (2nd from R) receiving Harold Gaines Award during upon earning a master’s degree from Antioch University (via Rural Development Leadership Network)

The latest news from made-for-press “racism battle” between the NAACP and the Tea Party is the firing/resignation of USDA George Director of Rural Development Shirley Sherrod for allegedly making “racist remarks” at a NAACP event in March. For those who knew of Shirley’s passionate and effective advocacy on behalf of poor farmers throughout her career, the news was nothing short of shocking.

But the story millions have seen on TV or read online is not nearly so simple. According to Ms. Sherrod, she was telling a cautionary story from 24 years ago. In fact, she went on to significantly help the white farmer who others are alleging she discriminated against. (For more on Shirley from people who know her, read here and here)

Sure, you’d expect her to say that. So, what does the wife of that now-deceased white farmer have to say?

The wife of the white farmer allegedly discriminated against by the USDA’s rural development director for Georgia said Shirley Sherrod “kept us out of bankruptcy.”

Eloise Spooner, 82, awoke Tuesday to discover that Sherrod had lost her job after videotaped comments she made in March at a local NAACP banquet surfaced on the web.

[...]

But Spooner, who considers Sherrod a “friend for life,” said the federal official worked tirelessly to help the Iron City couple hold onto their land as they faced bankruptcy back in 1986.

“Her husband told her, ‘You’re spending more time with the Spooners than you are with me,’ ” Spooner told the AJC. “She took probably two or three trips with us to Albany just to help us out.”

Spooner called Sherrod Tuesday morning.

“She’s very sad about it,” Spooner said. “She told me she was so glad we talked. I just can’t believe this is happening to her.”

Of course, you won’t hear this version of the story on many of the cable networks that are replaying a chopped-up clip ad nauseum (you can see where the highly edited clip first appeared here…we won’t perpetuate the unfair editing by reposting the videos on EquityBlog)

Do you know Shirley Sherrod? Tell us about it in the comments.

ALSO: One of the Atlanta Journal Constitution reporters who broke the true story is Marcus Garner, an old colleague of mine at the Daily Southtown newspaper on the South Side of  Chicago. Back in 2005, he did an amazing series of stories on the exhumation of Emmett Till’s body in search of answers in his murder. (Sadly, those stories are not online). But it’s always good to remember that it takes real people — often dedicated, passionate journalists — for the truth come out. Marcus is one of those dogged guys who gets to the bottom of the story. All people who want truth and not spin should be thankful for his work on this case.

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