Shirley Sherrod on how she stood up to the "politics of fear"

01/25/13 Lenka Davis
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In 2010 Shirley Sherrod was forced to resign from position as Georgia state director for Rural Development for the USDA when heavily edited remarks were used to accuse her of discriminating against a white farmer.

After setting the record straight, the Obama Administration offered Sherrod a new position at the USDA which she later declined.

In this second half of her interview with WMNF’s Lenka Davis, Sherrod shares the story of her memoir “The Courage to Hope: How I stood up to the politics of fear.”

You can hear the first half of this interview here.

"It entails doing exactly what I did. I worked hard to get my story out, the truth out. In doing so that's why I talk about how good God is, he just placed things there. I didn't set it up, I just simply talked to get the truth out. The white farmer stepped forward, other things started happening for people to step back and say, 'What is this? Were we all duped?" Yes, the answer is yes and they were able to see it. Yes. My grandchildren they were so proud of their grandmother working for the first black president. I had broken down a barrier by being the first black person in the position at Rural Development and I tell you that was a tough thing. But I knew for them I had to fight. I had to fight to show them that when you do the right thing you can win in the end."

Winning in the end. I guess the end of your case was just the new beginning for you so what have you been doing since then?

"Oh gosh, I say that I'm working more. I'm 65 years old now and I thought at this age...You know in those earlier years I used to envision my husband and I just being able to rest. Thinking about the earlier years when we worked so hard out there fighting for the rights of everyone. But I work more now than I did then? I'm working to help farmers get a vegetable processing center so that they can sell produce to the school system, helping to train them to grow it properly to do that. Working on a racial healing project, working to set up farmer's markets in the area. Going out speaking. You know, the fact that this happened to me has given me the opportunity to share and to encourage others to work in their communities. So, it's been yes, a terrible thing was turned around and I'm able to connect with so many more people as I go about the country speaking. And now the book."

You decided to dedicate your entire career to the farmland, to farmers, to agriculture. Are there any issues that were very pressing in the past that haven't been resolved yet that still need to change?

"The small farmer, especially black farmers. There's still issues around credit. The secretary just issued something last week, I'm not sure it's totally been enacted yet to come up with a way for small growers to actually borrow a smaller amount of money to be able to farm. That's a change. That's a change in the right direction. I can tell you that that initiative that I developed while I was at Rural Development, they looked at my record. I didn't stay there a whole year but they saw, gosh, she was able to get three times more money into consistently poor areas in Georgia in that short time then they had done in the previous eight years, what did she do? So they looked at it. He actually developed his own initiative modeled after my initiative and he calls his Strike Force. They didn't tell me at first but when people kept calling to ask then they finally had to reveal that yes he's using my initiative as a model. There's so many problems for small farmers as we've moved to corporate farms in this country. It's the small growers, those who've moved to care more about the land will care more about their communities. That's why so many communities are dying because we moved to this 'bigger is better' and in doing 'bigger is better' we moved to a point where corporations don't care about people. That's a real negative change that has happened through the years. We were all about small farms and communities. What's going to happen to bring that back? I don't know but we're trying it one little farm at a time."

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