Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rev. Charles Sherrod: ‘The Truth Got Out As Well’

The civil rights and racial justice work of Shirley Sherrod and her husband, the Rev. Charles Sherrod, underscored the irony last week of Shirley Sherrod’s forced resignation because of a distorted and edited version of a speech to a NAACP chapter. (Photo courtesy of NNPA)

Rev. Charles Sherrod: ‘The Truth Got Out As Well’
NNPA News Service

The Rev. Charles Sherrod Sr., a civil rights veteran who marched and organized alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is the husband of Former Department of Agriculture Rural Development Director Shirley Sherrod of South West Georgia. After his wife suffered a high-profile assault on her job, character and civil rights record last week, Rev. Sherrod shared his thoughts with the NNPA News Service.

NNPA: How have you handled what you and your wife have gone through the past week, given your history?

Charles Sherrod: Well, it’s not something new to have been misinterpreted or lied on by the press. We’ve gone through that for 50 years, so that was no surprise that a straight line truth is turned into a crooked lie. That’s a part of our training in the civil rights movement.

NNPA: But, did it surprise you at all in 2010?

C.S.: It surprised me because the nature of the beast is still the same as it was in 1961. It is still racists who control our economy and who control much of the cultural development in our country. And we know that they are the enemy in our fight. We fight with love, but we’re not a bunch of simpletons. We have been taught by this monster, whipped in place, told to stay in our place, but we’ve refused to do so. So, when you refuse to do so, you stand in danger of the wrath of the beast.

NNPA: Why do you think they were so quick to want her to resign before they even looked into the facts?

C.S.: Because a race step in our society is unforgiveable. We know that people have died from it. And this administration knows that the eyes of the conservatives are glued on them and they are looking for any chance to pounce on the image of the President. And so they are being careful. He took a big risk in having the beer summit. And that evidently didn’t come out as well as he would have liked it to come out, just a simple negotiating, sitting down and love, peaceful – There were no armies at war there – seemingly. But, there were.

Our nation is based unfortunately on racist foundations. The people who accept the racist perspectives are not going to give up in a day; nor a week. I’m 73 years old and I’ve been doing this for 50 years. I started out as a child. But, this has taught me that this monster, this racist society, can change its moods, can change its forms, can maneuver, can throw a rock and hide its hand, can throw a rock and show its hand. When it has the power to do so, it does so.

NNPA: What can be taken away from this?

C.S.: It’s a lot to take in and it’s taken us years to prepare for this day. But, the good thing about all of this is that it’s before the nation. Just that it’s before the nation, it’s where we’ve always wanted it to be - the question of who holds the power in our society and is that power racist power? Is that power used to put poor people in one place, colored people in another place and White people in still another place? That’s a question of racism.

NNPA: This has catapulted this whole question, this whole race debate before the nation, but what do we do with it, where do we go from here, what can actually move us forward on this issue of race?

C.S.: We’ve taken a first step. The first step is to confront each other; look each other in the mirror, I as a Black person and others, whatever hues they are, whatever has made you what you are, sitting down at a table with somebody across the table on an equal basis. That’s the key. Can we talk together in our society on an equal basis, accepting all the powers that you may have with all the powers that I may have, sitting down and making a conversation? That’s got to occur all over the country though. And occurring all over the country means it occurs in newspapers, it occurs in magazines, it occurs in TV forums, various media groups like CNN to push it. Just about every one of their programs had it on. All of the media has got to do this. We all have got to do this.

NNPA: We’ve got to do it, but is there something more that the President should do at this point?

C.S.: Putting this weight on the President is like putting the weight of passing the health bill on the President. That particular weight was on both the President and the Congress. The President can’t make two steps with legislation without the Congress approving it. And there are many other things that the president can’t do without the Senate advising and consenting. So, the President has got to be open to discussions and to take the same steps as a human being that others in giant corporations need to take as well and the policies that these giant corporations with thousands of employees, open discussions in those groups as well. But, to say that the President has got to take a different step that I personally have to take is putting too much weight on the President. We’ve all got to take our steps.

NNPA: There are some who have said that he’s too timid and that was the reason that this happened to your wife in the first place was because of the timidity because of the knee-jerk reaction to anything pertaining to race instead of going deeper.

C.S.: Do you think that the decision to do that was on the back of the President when the President has got thousands of issues coming before him every day? Every day he’s got issues across the streams of our society that stop at his door. He doesn’t have to take care of all of those issues ...That’s why he’s got a staff of hundreds of people.

NNPA: Andrew Brietbart, that blogger, still hasn’t apologized. What would you say to him at this point?

C.S.: I’d say to him the same thing that I would say to millions of White people across the country – that we’ve got to move forward together. We’ve got to accept that we are human beings, that we are not perfect and that we make mistakes. We have grown up and the system has taught us certain things. And at some point when we observe the things that we’ve grown up with, that we’ve been taught – and this is the point where I’m hoping that we can get to this year, this day, this week – is that there are some things that we have to accept, but there are some things that we can tell ourselves that are wrong that we have done and we know they are wrong….

I’m just saying that we are a confused bunch because of racism in our society in the way that we’ve been brought up. So, we are messed up. All of us, we are messed up. I can’t forget all of the things that have happened to me. I forgive. I can forgive. I can say I’m not holding this in my heart against anybody. I wouldn’t hurt anybody because of the wrong that they’ve done to me all my life. But, I’ve got to accept that there’s something wrong inside of me that hurts; that’s suffering that begs for release. But, I’m not going to have it released in front of you to hurt you.

Some of those things I’ve got to deal with for the rest of my life. Things that White people have done to me; how they’ve hurt me. Things they’ve said to me face to face; the beatings that I’ve taken; the jailings that I’ve taken in five states. All of this is inside of me. I can’t just put it aside but I can decide who I want to be. Despite all the hurt that I have, I’m not going to hurt another brother.

NNPA: Has what happened last week added to that hurt?

C.S.: It’s added to that hurt. But, it’s also taken away and soothed that hurt. There is an instance in which the truth was twisted, but the truth got out as well. And it got out with the help of a white man and a white woman. Now that’s having a good week.

At A Glance

Shirley Sherrod, former Department of Agriculture Rural Development Director of South West Georgia, was forced to resign by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack based upon a distorted and edited videotape of a March 2010 speech to the NAACP. The edited version made it appear as if Sherrod had discriminated against a white farmer.

The out-of-context remarks were condemned by the NAACP, whose president, Ben Jealous, later said in a statement of apology that they were “snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart,” the blogger who released the edited video.

Sherrod later received public apologies from Vilsack and an offer of employment back at Agriculture – an offer that she still was weighing at press time.

President Obama telephone Sherrod to express his regrets.
The farmer, 88-year-old Roger Spooner, and his wife, Eloise, appeared on CNN to rebuke those who condemned Sherrod.

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