Shirley Sherrod and FamilyShirley Sherrod is one of the unsung heroes from the civil rights era and like Obama, started her career as an organizer:

Shirley’s work began in 1965 as an organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Southwest Georgia Project.


RDLN Graduate and Board Vice Chair Shirley Sherrod was appointed Georgia Director for Rural Development by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on July 25. Only days earlier, she learned that New Communities, a group she founded with her husband and other families  has won a thirteen million dollar settlement in the minority farmers law suit Pigford vs Vilsack.

In announcing the appointment of Shirley and other new officials, Secretary Vilsack said that  “These individuals will be important advocates on behalf of rural communities in states throughout the country and help administer the valuable programs and services provided by the USDA that can enhance their economic success.”

Without brave women like her, we’d still be living in a segregated, unfree America. She’s dedicated her entire career to helping other Americans. She deserves a medal, not a pink slip. So says the white farmer whose livelihood she helped save:

Yesterday, Roger Spooner said that Sherrod saved their farm and kept them out of bankruptcy. He told CNN, “I don’t know what brought up the racist mess. They just want to stir up some trouble, it sounds to me in my opinion.”

Stirring up trouble with a hot racist mess indeed. Color of Change has launched a new action. Help us send a powerful message to the White House: Make This Right.

The Obama administration just caved in to the right-wing smear machine, firing a Black USDA official after she was smeared by far-right blogger Andrew Breitbart and his friends at Fox News Channel.[1]

Sherrod’s dismissal was based on a selectively edited video that made it appear she was confessing to discriminating against a White farming couple. In reality she was telling the story of how working with that family to save their farm helped her to lose her racial preconceptions.[2]

It took less than 24 hours for the lies to be debunked. But by that time, it was too late — Sherrod was forced to quit. And even now that the truth is known, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is refusing to reinstate her.[3] Worse, Vilsack has President Obama’s support.[4] This kind of political cowardice is beyond shameful.

Please join us in calling on the White House to immediately give Shirley Sherrod her job back, and to stop bowing to the will of right-wing propaganda artists. And please ask your friends and family to do the same — it takes just a moment:

The smear

On Monday, Andrew Breitbart (a blogger who works closely with FOX News and has a long history of launching deceptive, racially charged smear campaigns) posted a deceptively edited video of USDA employee Shirley Sherrod speaking at an NAACP function. The video shows Sherrod telling a story about how she once was asked for help from a White farmer, and how she didn’t “give him the full force of what I could do” to help him, because of his race.[5]

Breitbart touted the video as evidence that the NAACP and the Obama administration tolerated racial discrimination against White people, saying that it showed Sherrod’s “federal duties are managed through the prism of race and class distinctions.” Breitbart’s doctored video and false storyline moved quickly to FOX News, where on-air personalities called for Sherrod’s firing.[6]

The truth is that Sherrod was telling a 24-year old story about her work for a non-profit organization whose mission was to help Black farmers. Discrimination against Black farmers was rampant, and she described how she was first reluctant when approached by a White farmer named Roger Spooner for help (Sherrod also says that her father was killed by a White farmer 45 years ago). But after seeing that no one wanted to help Spooner, she worked to save his farm, and eventually became good friends with his family. [7]

Yesterday, Roger Spooner said that Sherrod saved their farm and kept them out of bankruptcy. He told CNN, “I don’t know what brought up the racist mess. They just want to stir up some trouble, it sounds to me in my opinion.”[8]

A disturbing pattern

Sadly, the truth didn’t matter at all. Soon after Breitbart’s fake video surfaced, Sherrod says she was pressured by the White House to resign. Sherrod was never given a chance to tell her side of the story and says that the Obama administration was “not interested in hearing the truth.”[9]

Once the truth became known, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement saying that whether or not the smear campaign against Sherrod was based in lies, it was necessary to fire her because the “controversy” would make it hard for her to do her job.[10] The Obama administration is essentially saying that they will always back down in the face of dishonest, race-baiting smear campaigns launched by right-wing propagandists. They’ve ended the career of someone who did nothing wrong, and by handing a victory to the people who launched this deception, the administration is encouraging them to launch even more smears. All to avoid “controversy.” It’s pathetic, it’s shameful, and it has to stop.

It’s not the first time this has happened. Several members of the Obama administration have lost their jobs or been demoted, and nominees to cabinet positions have either stepped down or withdrawn their nominations after becoming the target of smear campaigns launched by FOX News and Breitbart

It’s bad enough that we have to fight the constant smear campaigns and appeals to racial paranoia from FOX and the right-wing media. But it’s completely shameful and outrageous for the Obama administration to throw innocent public servants under the bus just to avoid having to fight back against the lies.

If enough of us call out the White House and tell them to stop running scared from FOX News, they might listen. Please join us in standing up for Shirley Sherrod, and demanding that the White House do the right thing now:

Thanks and Peace,

— James, Gabriel, William, Dani, Milton and the rest of the team
July 21, 2010

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1. “Fox smears Sherrod as racist, Sherrod cancels Fox interview,” Media Matters for America, 7-20-2010

2. “NAACP ‘snookered’ over video of former USDA employee,” CNN, 7-20-2010

3. “Official: No WH pressure on Sherrod,” Politico, 7-20-2010

4. “Obama briefed after Sherrod incident,” CNN Politics, 7-20-2010

5. See Reference 2

6. See Reference 1

7. See Reference 2

8. See Reference 2

9. See Reference 2

10. See Reference 3

Please join me in sending a quick and hot email to the Obama Administration. They need to hear from you. Show them that black folks won’t stand for the railroad treatment.

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