For all the over-warped speed in initially getting that bogus version of the Shirley Sherrod story out there and pushing her our the door at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, other details in this story have been surprisingly slow to emerge. In particular, I'd been waiting to hear more about a comment from Sherrod on CNN that her father had been murdered by a white farmer in 1965.
Now we know a few details. Her dad was named Hosie Miller, and he was a deacon at Thankful Baptist Church in Newton, Ga., toward the southwest corner of the state. He was also a farmer who, according to CNN, grew corn, peanuts, cotton and cucumbers and raised hogs, cows and goats. Forty-five years ago, Hosie Miller was shot to death -- in the back, no less -- by a white farmer in what his daughter now describes as ostensibly a dispute over a few cows, although the exact circumstances were murky.
A grand jury investigated the case, and no one was charged. All of the grand jurors were white, as was typically the case before the passage of the landmark civil rights legislation of the mid-1960s. From that incident, a movement was born. Indeed, according to this article, Shirley Sherrod's mother -- Grace Hall Miller -- became the leader of the civil rights movement in Baker County after the killing, organizing marches and other protests from her home. The then 17-year-old Shirley Miller decided to stay in the South and become an activist; she soon married one of the leaders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, a man by the name of Charles Sherrod. Shirley Sherrod told CNN that ""I decided to stay in the South and work for change."
How unusual was it for a black man to be killed by a white man in the Deep South up through the mid-1960s with no one brought to justice. Way too common. We hear a lot about one particular killing in Mississippi -- the 1964 murder of a trio of civil rights activists that included two white college kids from up North -- but in reality dozens of black men were killed for taking a stand, for trying to vote or just on a whim. If you want to read something sobering, check out this letter (PDF) from 2007 from the Southern Poverty Law Center, asking the FBI to investigate some 74 additional unsolved deaths from the era.
Banks, Isadore - Marion, Ark., 1954
Banks' charred corpse was found chained to a tree. Black press reports speculated he was killed by whites who wanted his land. His property was later rented by white farmers.
Bolden, Larry - Chattanooga, Tenn., 1958
Bolden, 15, was shot by a white policeman. No arrests were made.
Brazier, James - Dawson, Ga., 1958
Brazier was beaten to death in front of his wife and children by two police officers. County Sheriff Z.T. Matthews was later quoted in the Washington Post saying, "There's nothing like fear to keep niggers in line."
Brewer, Thomas - Columbus, Ga., 1956
Brewer was instrumental in forming a local chapter of the NAACP in 1937. He was shot seven times outside his office by white politician Lucio Flowers. A grand jury failed to indict.
Brooks, Hilliard - Montgomery, Ala., 1952
Brooks was shot by a police officer after initially refusing to get off a city bus when the driver claimed he had not paid his fare. A coroner said the murder was justified because Brooks resisted arrest.
Brown, Charles - Yazoo City, Miss., 1957
A white man shot Brown, who was visiting the white man's sister. The Justice Department handed the case over to the state.
Brown, Jessie - Winona, Miss., 1965
The 1965 NAACP annual report claimed white farmer R.M. Gibson killed Brown.
Brumfield, Carrie - Franklinton, La., 1967
Brumfield was found shot to death in his car on a rural road. He was shot once in the chest with a .22-caliber revolver.
Brumfield, Eli - McComb, Miss., 1961
Police officer B.F. Elmore alleged self-defense after shooting Brumfield. Police claimed Brumfield jumped from his car with a pocket knife after police pulled him over for speeding.
Now that's just the letter, "B", OK? There's 65 more. And you'll notice that Hosie Miller -- gunned down by a white man in a dispute over cows -- isn't even on the list. You have to wonder how many more Hosie Millers there was in a place like Georgia.
Which I think puts an exclamation point on this week's hysteria over Shirley Sherrod. We've talked and written so much in the last decade, in the context of the Middle East especially, about the cycle of violence -- about how death and destruction and watching loved ones die sow the anger that causes the tragic pattern to repeat.
But there was a war right here in this country, too, not so long ago, with a surprisingly long list of victims. That violence is what started Shirley Sherrod on the road to who she is today -- it compelled here to stay in the South and fight, which is understandable, but then it led to her redemptive vision and her notion of transcending race, which -- given what happened to her own flesh and blood -- is nothing short of remarkable. Ironically, a surprising number of positive things have come out of this bizarre Sherrod tale -- but nothing more positive than resurrecting the forgotten memory of Hosie Miller.
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