The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund celebrated its 43rd Annual Meeting this past weekend in Birmingham and at the organization’s Rural Training and Research Center at Epes, Alabama.
On Saturday, August 21, Shirley Sherrod, a former Federation staff member and recently dismissed Georgia State Director of USDA Rural Development and Ben Jealous, Executive Director of the NAACP, spoke publicly together for the first time about the incident of Ms. Sherrod’s dismissal in mid-July based on a distorted video tape of her speech to an NAACP group in Georgia.
The tape was edited by Andrew Brietbart, a right-wing ideologue, to suggest that Ms. Sherrod was withholding services from a white farmer. When the entire video is viewed in context it is clear that Ms. Sherrod is speaking of her transformation and overcoming prejudice by helping to save the white farmer’s farm despite her own negative life experiences with whites.
After CNN and other news media showed the full tape and interviewed Shirley Sherrod, the NAACP, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and President Obama all felt compelled to apologize to her.
In her talk to the Federation’s members, Sherrod stressed her work at Georgia Rural Development to target services to the 9 poorest counties in the state. Those with a median income below $20,000 for a family of four. Many of these counties had been neglected for programs, resources and services from USDA Rural Development.
She also spoke about efforts to bring together state and Federal agencies in Georgia beyond Rural Development to work on the serious problems of rural persistent poverty. She said that she was quietly working to make changes and persuading her agency colleagues and staff associates to embrace the changes.
She reviewed the chronology of what happened to her leading to her forced resignation from USDA on Monday evening, July 19, 2010 when she was required to stop by the side of the highway and send a text message on her phone with her resignation. She said, “I have received and continue to receive many ‘hate messages’ since the incident. I decided not to read too many of them since they will distract me from my basic purpose and goals.”
Sherrod said, “ my greatest fear was thinking about how to explain to my grandchildren that the first African American RD Director in Georgia was fired by the first African-American President.”
She also thanked the Federation, especially Ralph Paige, Executive Director and Jerry Pennick, Land Assistance Director, and many other supporters and organizations around the country for their letters and expressions of support.
Sherrod said, “ I do not know where this country is going. There are too many good people in this country. We must build bridges to these people and groups. We need to work together to end racism. People tried to turn me against the NAACP and my President – Barack Obama – but I am not going to do that. We do not have time to fight each other. I accept the apology of the NAACP and I support our President. I love the work that I am doing and I will continue to do it.”
Sherrod quoted from the 27th Psalm in the Bible and said, “ you can see that God was in everything that happened to me and that God is good.”
Sherrod told a press conference after her speech that she was meeting with USDA Secretary Vilsack in the coming week to discuss the job proposals from USDA.
Jealous supports the Federation and Sherrod
Ben Jealous, who is the youngest President and CEO of the NAACP said he was pleased to visit the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center and this would not be his last visit. He promised that the NAACP will work with the Federation and support the needs and policy concerns of Black farmers and rural people.
Jealous thanked Shirley Sherrod for her grace, strength and humility and said she was an inspiration for all people.
Jealous spoke about his experience as a reporter for the Jackson Advocate newspaper in Mississippi covering the case of Dewayne Boyd in Oktibbeha County (Starkville) fighting to restore his family land. He said he learned a great deal about the challenges the Federation faces in helping Black landowners and farmers in his coverage of this case. Boyd was arrested for arson on his white neighbor’s tractor, the same neighbor who was trying to take his land. Boyd was ultimately acquitted in this case when the full record of the case was revealed.
Jealous said the NAACP was supporting the Federation’s efforts to secure the $1.25 billion appropriation for paying farmers in Pigford2 for the settlement of their discrimination cases. He said this was one of 350 bills for change that had been blocked by recalcitrant Republican Senators. He said, “ it is not right to balance the budget with injustice, we must balance it with fairness.”
“We need to be relentless in our advocacy. We need to work as hard this November as we did in 2008 to elect people to Congress and the Senate, who will support our agenda for progressive change. We need to work for Comprehensive Immigration Reform so all the people in our country will have a path to citizenship. We need a multiracial coalition for change.”
Jealous also invited members of the Federation to participate in a march on Washington D. C. for Jobs, Justice and Education that the NAACP is convening on October 2, 2010.
Alice Walker receives Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award
On Thursday evening in Birmingham, Alabama, the Federation presented the Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement to novelist and humanitarian, Alice Walker, who was raised in rural Georgia and reflects some of her heritage in her writings. The award is named for a founder of The Federation who served for three decades as the Manager of the Freedom Quilting Bee in Wilcox County, Alabama.
Walker said she was basically indifferent to awards but appreciated this one from the Federation since it came from people who toiled in the earth and had a similar background to her and her family.
“ My parents worked hard in the fields and you could see their sacrifice. But my mother decided and insisted that I would go to school. In fact they worked with others in the community to build a school where we could go to learn.
“We have inherited this world and the earth. We must work together collectively to save it, preserve it, respect it and take care of it. We need to work together to cross the finish line as the people our parents suffered to make us.”
Walker, who has written more than twenty books including novels like “The Color Purple”, essays, stories received a formal award and a purple quilt that she quickly draped around herself, the key to the City of Birmingham and several other plaques and awards from community groups that attended the dinner.
Others honored at the dinner included the two co-chairs, Congressman G. K. Butterfield of South Carolina and Carolyn Mugar, Executive Director of Farm-Aid. Mugar said she “was a partner with the Federation in saving family farms”.
Weather for Eutaw, Ala. Thursday Friday SaturdayPartly Cloudy91/66Clear79/55Clear81/61
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