Despite being fired by the Obama administration, condemned by the media and targeted with abusive phone calls, Shirley Sherrod still believes in America and the promise of a multiracial society living in harmony.
In an interview with Huffington Post, the former Agriculture Department official described her shock at landing in the middle of a media firestorm when her misconstrued remarks from an edited video clip led millions of Americans to believe that she had once discriminated against a white farmer. She also gave her thoughts on the new job offered her by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, her phone call with President Obama, her refusal to appear on Fox News or to speak to Andrew Breitbart and her doubts that whites are the victims of black racism.
"I'm still looking at it -- I've asked some questions about it and I have a few more questions," Sherrod said about Vilsack's offer to promote her to the position of deputy director of the office of advocacy and outreach at the USDA, adding that she will meet with Vilsack and USDA officials on August 24. "It's [a job] dealing with discrimination in the agency, working with minority groups and so forth. I'm a little concerned that the agency has really not dealt with that issue in the way that it should have through the years."
Sherrod says that she has not been contacted by the White House since talking to President Obama on July 22. In that seven-minute conversation, she explained, "I said that there are people like me who have had experiences -- different from the ones he had -- which had a big impact on my life... I just wanted to share some of that with him. He told me that he covered a lot of what I was saying in his book [she explains that he didn't specify which of his two books he was referring to]. I guess I have to read it."
And she continues to assert that USDA Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl Cook told her that the White House asked for Sherrod's firing, despite the denials of Vilsack. "I know that she said that, she said the White House. I can only go on what she said to me."
Sherrod says she was shocked at the lack of due diligence on the part of most media outlets, especially Fox News, whose requests for an interview she has spurned. "I've had many requests from Fox but I've refused all of them," she says, adding that Geraldo Rivera and other Fox News reporters have called her several times. "I don't feel that Fox will be fair in their reporting of anything I say. They didn't reach out to me before they put it all out there. There was no attempt by Fox or Breitbart to reach out to me to at least get a statement about what they were putting out... I have a closed mind at this point with them."
Similarly, Sherrod says she has no interest in talking to Breitbart, whom she plans to sue, if she ever met him. "Breitbart made it very public that he has no intention of apologizing to me and I don't expect that. He said he was going after the NAACP but he had to know he was going after me. He was willing to destroy me for whatever reason and that's what I see."
The longtime civil rights activist -- whose father Hosie Miller, a deacon at the local Baptist Church, was shot to death by a white farmer -- says that she received several threats and abusive messages when the story first hit the airwaves. "That first night, I got lots of messages that I stopped reading them on my Blackberry issued by the government. It was too hurtful to read them and I started deleting them."
Later that night, after midnight, she picked up the phone to hear a caller angrily say, "You Shirley Sherrod? You lost your job, didn't you? Good for you!" And the next day, she says she received several calls left on her voicemail, including one from a woman in California who said hurtful things about her late father.
"My goal was trying to get the truth out and I was so focused on that that I couldn't dwell on [the phone calls and emails]. Someone tried to say I lied about my father's murder. It was like having him murdered all over again."
Though she has accepted the apology of NAACP president Ben Jealous and will appear together with him on Saturday in Alabama, Sherrod is still shocked that the landmark civil-rights organization condemned her when the story first emerged. "I was very shocked. When you look at my civil rights history, to have an organization like the NAACP condemn me, when you look at what I have done, worked more years than the age of some of them working there, it hurts. I put it at 'They're young and have a lot of growing to do.'... It was a teachable moment for them."
She says that the whole episode demonstrates the prevalence of racism. "We swept it under the rug and then we got a black president and in the minds of people, they thought we had moved beyond where we were, but it [the scandal over the edited video clip] was a wake-up call... We need to get to the point where we feel that we have worked it out because we dealt with it, to make this country and even greater country."
Sherrod dismisses recent right-wing complaints that white Americans are the victims of racism by black Americans. "I really think that that is not legitimate. I don't see that where I am and I haven't been able to see that in the country. People would like to make the majority of us believe that but I don't think people are out to get white people for things that happened in the past. The good thing about people living in this country is we do have the ability to adjust, to get it right and move on. We need to concentrate on learning how to live together."
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