Shirley Sherrod

Civil Rights Figure / Political Scandal Figure
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The USDA employee unfairly smeared as a racist in 2010

Shirley Sherrod was an employee with the United States Department of Agriculture who made headlines in July of 2010 as the center of a political dust-up created by opponents of President Barack Obama. Raised in rural Georgia and a graduate of Albany State University and Antioch University Midwest, Shirley Sherrod has been in the business of helping African-American farmers since the late 1960s. Between 1969 and 1985 she and her husband were directors of New Communities, Inc., a communal farm project in Lee County, Georgia, and Sherrod has since worked on behalf of black farmers in Georgia. Although Sherrod fought the U.S.D.A. for years as part of a class action lawsuit, she was hired in late 2009 to be the Georgia State Director of Rural Development. She made the news on 19 July 2010, thanks to Internet gadfly and conservative agitator Andrew Breitbart, who posted a video of Shirley Sherrod speaking at an event for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) the previous March. In the video, Sherrod told of having racist feelings toward a white farmer (later revealed to be Roger Spooner). Breitbart's intention was to show "reverse racism" on the part of the NAACP and the Obama administration. The story was picked up by Fox News and other online media outlets, the NAACP condemned her remarks and Sherrod was asked to resign from her post. The next day a different story emerged after it was discovered that Breitbart -- and the news media who trailed behind -- had run only a portion of her speech. Left out was the part where Sherrod told of overcoming her racist feelings. It also turned out that the story she told occurred in 1986, long before Sherrod was a federal employee. Sherrod was offered a new position in the Department of Agriculture, which she later declined, and announced her plans to sue Breitbart.

Extra Credit

The original class action suit that Shirley Sherrod was involved in is known as the Pigford case, from the 1997 filing Pigford v. Glickman. The suit sought redress for racial discrimination by the United States Department of Agriculture. The case was expanded after 2008 (Pigford II), and in 2010 the U.S.D.A. announced a $1.25 billion settlement toward successful Pigford claims. Sherrod and her husband, Charles Sherrod, are reportedly due $12.5 million from the settlement to compensate them for the loss of New Communities, plus $300,000 for personal damages.

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