The “Martin Luther King Awards Dinner” Interview
with Kam Williams
Shirley Sherrod is best known as the African-American government official fired in 2010 by the Obama administration for allegedly making racist remarks about a white farmer. However, a right-wing blogger had edited a video of her remarks to create that false impression.
Shortly after being dismissed as the Georgia USDA State Director of Rural Development she was cleared by the administration, and President Obama apologized to her. Nevertheless, she decided to not return, opting instead to write a book her autobiography, “The Courage to Hope: How I Stood Up to the Politics of Fear.”
When Shirley was 17, her father was killed by a white man in Georgia but no charges were ever lodged. A cross was burned in their yard shortly thereafter. The death of her father fostered her lifelong commitment to fight for the civil rights of poor and minority farmers.
She is currently a leader of the Southwest Georgia Project, an organization she helped start years ago. The organization works primarily with female farmers, trying to get more women involved in agriculture, and also marketing vegetables to local school systems.
In 2011, under the leadership of Shirley and her husband, Charles, New Communities, an agricultural cooperative modeled after the Israeli Kibbutz concept, bought a large farm in Georgia. They are establishing an agricultural training center there, as well as a program bringing local blacks and whites together in partnership to promote racial healing.
In a famous quote from Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago notes that, "Who steals my purse, steals trash… But he that filches from me my good name… makes me poor indeed.” Here, Shirley talks about the tarnishing and restoration of her reputation, and also about delivering the keynote speech at the 26th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Dinner in Glen Burnie, MD on Friday, January 17. [Tickets may be purchased by phone at 410-760-4115 or at www.mlkmd.org.]
Kam Williams: Hi Ms. Sherrod. I’m honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.
Shirley Sherrod: Thank you, Kam.
KW: You’re delivering the keynote speech at the annual dinner in honor of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. What did Dr. King mean to you?
SS: Well, Dr. King has long been my hero. I didn’t get to work with him much, but my husband did in the early years. Dr. King gave his life, really, to the struggle for everyone. And he believed in non-violence. That’s what I’ve tried to do in terms of my life and my work, following the teachings of God.
KW: In your biography, you talk about how your father was murdered by a white man when you were 17. How did that tragedy shape you?
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