Andrew Breitbart, a right-wing conservative commentator, released a video with excerpts of a speech by Sherrod at an NAACP fundraiser. He accused Sherrod, an African-American, of prejudice towards whites and demanded her resignation. Accepting the video posted on a conservative website as absolute truth and without researching the original speech, the racist-phobic politicians, including President Barack Obama, jumped to the bait set by the conservatives, demanding her resignation.
On behalf of the Obama administration, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack gladly accepted her resignation. In her defense, Sherrod provided Vilsack with the original copy of her speech. After viewing the tape, the White House realized it was snookered by the conservative media. Vilsack apologized and offered her a new position with the agency. Obama, who had to know what was going on, also was forced to apologize. I wonder what that will do for his job approval rating.
Sherrod’s roots are planted deep in Georgia. Her father was shot and killed over the ownership of a few cows by a white Georgia farmer when she was only 17 years old. There were never any charges filed and the crime went unpunished. The incident changed her life; she became an activist for change. She was one of the first black students enrolled in a primarily white local high school. After receiving her master’s degree, she worked for the Department of Agriculture in Georgia because she wanted to help “minority farmers keep their land.”
Her story reminded me of a similar situation one of my best friends experienced.
I was driving from New York City to Miami Beach, Fla. The race track in New York and Garden State Park race track in New Jersey were closing down for the winter. Hialeah, just north of Miami, was the home for many New York bookies, betters and the best race horses on the East Coast.
Somewhere in southern Georgia, I passed a sign pointing to the Suwannee River. George Gershwin’s song “Swanee” has a different spelling; however, it’s the same river. Painting himself in blackface, Al Jolson made the song famous in minstrel shows on the New York City stage and on the big screen. Now that’s real racial profiling and racism.
Just past the sign there was a black man hitchhiking in the damp, cold, drizzling rain. He had two pieces of luggage and a duffle bag. It looked like he was freezing to death so I offered him a ride. He introduced himself as Tom and we were on our way. During the following week I gained a real insight and firsthand experience about racism and segregation in the South.
An hour into the trip, we stopped at a restaurant. Tom was starved and needed to use the facilities. Ten minutes later he came out to the car and said, “They won’t serve me and asked me to leave because it’s a white restaurant. But there is a nigger restaurant about a mile down the road.”
I read about segregation but never saw it firsthand. I grew up with Puerto Ricans, blacks, Chinese and some Hispanics. Except for a few switchblade knives, we all got along fine.
Tom appreciated the ride. He just came home from the Korean War and was honorably discharged with a couple of medals for his memory book. He was on his way home to Fort Myers, Fla. and couldn’t wait to see his family. Fort Myers was out of my way but I told him I would take him home if I had a place to stay overnight.
Although Tom lived in a virtual slum, his home was clean. Everyone seemed to accept me, so much so that I stayed for a week. If the whites would accept the blacks the same way Tom’s family and neighbors treated me, there would be no more segregation.
His family was overjoyed to see him but he kept asking about his father. I sat on the porch as he was told his dad was shot and killed by a white man over a $20 bill laying on the main street in town. No charges were filed.
Like Sherrod, instead of revenge, Tom pursued an education, returned to Fort Myers, became an a activist and spent his life striving for social tolerance, political change and racial justice. He was instrumental in building affordable housing and developing safe and clean neighborhoods in the black community.
Tom helped ease the existing racial phobia, collective intolerance and individual ignorance so prevalent in the South. And like Sherrod, he honored the death of his father with pride. He did something in life his father would have been proud of: He learned his lesson of humanity. He learned his lessons from social injustice.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.