"God helped me see that its not just about black people, it's about poor people." And Breitbart called her a racist
Digby has always been the conscience of the progresssive blogosphere. If you hang out there, you’ll likely have run across a link with just three words: “What Digby said.” Not surprisingly, Digby did one of the best posts on the Shirley Sherrod scandal late last night — because she mainly just let the woman speak, in a post headlined “What Shirley Sherrod really said.” I had watched extended clips of the video that the sad Andrew Breitbart edited to claim was “racist,” but thanks to Digby (and Media Matters) I found the transcript of her speech to the NAACP Freedom Fund and read the whole thing — and it floored me.
Shirley Sherrod isn’t a victim, she’s a hero, and she said in a few short paragraphs what I’ve been trying to say for my whole career. Here it is. (There are reports the USDA is reconsidering her firing, but nothing confirmed yet.)
For context, Breitbart ended his video beatdown of Sherrod with this quote:
“That’s when it was revealed to me that y’all, it’s about poor versus those who have, and not so much about white — it is about white and black, but it’s not — you know, it opened my eyes, ’cause I took him to one of his own …”
But here’s the whole story.
… ’cause I took him to one of his own and I put him in his hands, and said, OK, I’ve done my job. But, during that time, we would have these injunctions against the Department of Agriculture and — so, they couldn’t foreclose on him. And I want you to know that the county supervisor had done something to him that I have not seen yet that they’ve done to any other farmer, black or white. And what they did to him caused him to not be able to file Chapter 12 bankruptcy.
So, everything was going along fine — I’m thinking he’s being taken care of by the white lawyer, then they lift the injunction against USDA in May of ’87 for two weeks and he was one of 13 farmers in Georgia who received a foreclosure notice. He called me. I said, well, go on and make an appointment at the lawyer. Let me know when it is and I’ll meet you there.
So we met at the lawyer’s office on the day they had given him. And this lawyer sat there — he had been paying this lawyer, y’all. That’s what got me. He had been paying the lawyer since November, and this was May. And the lawyer sat there and looked at him and said, “Well, y’all are getting old. Why don’t you just let the farm go?” I could not believe he said that, so I said to the lawyer — I told him, I can’t believe you said that. I said: It’s obvious to me that he cannot file a Chapter 12 bankruptcy to stop this foreclose, you have to file an 11. And the lawyer said to me, I’ll do whatever you say — whatever you think — that’s the way he put it. But he’s paying him. He wasn’t paying me any money. You know, so he said — the lawyer said he would work on it.
And then, about seven days before that man would have been sold at the courthouse steps, the farmer called me and said the lawyer wasn’t doing anything. And that’s when I spent time there in my office calling everybody I could think so to try to see — help me find the lawyer who would handle this. And finally, I remembered that I had gone to see one just 40 miles away in Americus with the black farmers. So, I –
SHERROD: Well, working with him made me see that it’s really about those who have versus those who don’t.
AUDIENCE: That’s right.
SHERROD: You know, and they could be black, and they could be white, they could be Hispanic. And it made me realize then that I needed to work to help poor people — those who don’t have access the way others have.
I want to just share something with you and I think it helps to — you know, when I learned this, I’m like, oh, my goodness. You know, back in the late 17th and 18th century, black — there were black indentured servants and white indentured servants, and they all would work for seven years and get their freedom. And they didn’t see any difference in each other — nobody worried about skin color. They married each other. You know, these were poor whites and poor blacks in the same boat, except they were slaves, but they were both slaves and both had their opportunity to work out on the slavery.
But then they started looking at the injustices that they faced and started then trying — you know, the people with money — you know, they started — the poor whites and poor blacks — they — you know, they married each other. They lived together. They were just like we would be. And they started looking at what was happening to them and decided we need to do something about it — you know, about this. Well, the people with money, the elite, decided, hey, we need to do something here to divide them.
So that’s when they made black people servants for life. That’s when the put laws in place forbidding them to marry each other. That’s when they created the racism that we know of today. They did it to keep us divided. And they — it started working so well, they said, gosh, looks like we’ve come up on something here that can last generations — and here we are. Over 400 years later, and it’s still working. What we have to do is get that out of our heads. There is no difference between us.
The only difference is that the folks with money want to stay in power and whether it’s health care or whatever it is, they’ll do what they need to do to keep that power.
[25:03] SHERROD: I couldn’t say 45 years ago, I couldn’t stand here and say what I’m saying — what I will say to you tonight. Like I told, God helped me to see that its not just about black people, it’s about poor people. And I’ve come a long way. I knew that I couldn’t live with hate, you know. As my mother has said to so many, if we had tried to live with hate in our hearts, we’d probably be dead now.
But I’ve come to realize that we have to work together and — you know, it’s sad that we don’t have a room full of white and blacks here tonight ’cause we have to overcome the divisions that we have. We have to get to the point as Toni Morrison said race exists but it doesn’t matter. We have to work just as hard — I know it’s — you know, that division is still here, but our communities are not going to thrive — you know, our children won’t have the communities that they need to be able to stay in and live in and have a good life if we can’t figure this out, you all. White people, black people, Hispanic people, we all have to do our part to make our communities a safe place, a healthy place, a good environment.
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America." More Joan Walsh.
More Related Stories
- If Alex Pareene was a cable news executive...
- Portland's senseless war on fluoride
- Graphic video reportedly shows possible London machete attack suspect
- What economists get wrong about the jobs crisis
- Ted Cruz: "I don't trust the Republicans"
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- Glenn Beck: "The American people have just been raped"
- "Original Coca-Cola had a very small amount of cocaine"
- Corporations accused of wrongdoing win battle to keep identities secret
- Weak, incompetent Democrats blow another one
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
- Cyber attacks could cause the next world war
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- Experts: Fox News spying scandal a game-changer
- Biden cracks Obama teleprompter joke
- IRS official takes the Fifth: "I have not done anything wrong"
- Lessons from Lincoln leave gay immigrants behind
- Los Angeles elects first Jewish mayor
- Peter King: There's "hypocrisy" over aid by Oklahoma senators
- Anthony Weiner announces run for NYC mayor
- How policy nihilists in the Senate doomed LGBT immigrants
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11