Thursday, July 22, 2010

Heroes, And Goats

Caption: Shirley Sherrod speaking at the NAACP meeting.

Image credit: Screenshot of NAACP YouTube video by Cujo359

It may be that the most tragic thing about the Shirley Sherrod firing is the true origin of that story she told at the NAACP, which until this evening I had not seen:

For all the over-warped speed in initially getting that bogus version of the Shirley Sherrod story out there and pushing her our the door at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, other details in this story have been surprisingly slow to emerge. In particular, I'd been waiting to hear more about a comment from Sherrod on CNN that her father had been murdered by a white farmer in 1965.

Now we know a few details. Her dad was named Hosie Miller, and he was a deacon at Thankful Baptist Church in Newton, Ga., toward the southwest corner of the state. He was also a farmer who, according to CNN, grew corn, peanuts, cotton and cucumbers and raised hogs, cows and goats. Forty-five years ago, Hosie Miller was shot to death -- in the back, no less -- by a white farmer in what his daughter now describes as ostensibly a dispute over a few cows, although the exact circumstances were murky.

Hosie Miller: Shirley Sherrod's Dad, And A Casualty In A Forgotten War

Recall that in the speech that Andrew Breitbart published in edited form, Ms. Sherrod was telling the story of how, many years ago, she almost decided not to help a white farmer save his farm. As I'm sure many people did, I just assumed it was some attitude about whites that she'd acquired early in life that contributed to her initial desire to just do the minimum that was required. Of course, I didn't write about that, because I really had no idea what was actually going on.

If only Andrew Breitbart, the NAACP, and the Obama Administration had demonstrated a similar level of restraint.

The tragedy of all this is that what Shirley Sherrod was saying in that speech to the NAACP was that this was the wrong attitude:

That's when it was revealed to me that y'all, it's about poor versus those who have, and not so much about white -- it is about white and black, but it's not -- you know, it opened my eyes, 'cause I took him to one of his own and I put him in his hands, and said, OK, I've done my job. But, during that time, we would have these injunctions against the Department of Agriculture and -- so, they couldn't foreclose on him. And I want you to know that the county supervisor had done something to him that I have not seen yet that they've done to any other farmer, black or white. And what they did to him caused him to not be able to file Chapter 12 bankruptcy.

So, everything was going along fine -- I'm thinking he's being taken care of by the white lawyer, then they lift the injunction against USDA in May of '87 for two weeks and he was one of 13 farmers in Georgia who received a foreclosure notice. He called me. I said, well, go on and make an appointment at the lawyer. Let me know when it is and I'll meet you there.

So we met at the lawyer's office on the day they had given him. And this lawyer sat there -- he had been paying this lawyer, y'all. That's what got me. He had been paying the lawyer since November, and this was May. And the lawyer sat there and looked at him and said, "Well, y'all are getting old. Why don't you just let the farm go?" I could not believe he said that, so I said to the lawyer -- I told him, I can't believe you said that. I said: It's obvious to me that he cannot file a Chapter 12 bankruptcy to stop this foreclose, you have to file an 11. And the lawyer said to me, I'll do whatever you say -- whatever you think -- that's the way he put it. But he's paying him. He wasn't paying me any money. You know, so he said -- the lawyer said he would work on it.

Full Video Vindicates Sherrod, Destroys Breitbart's Accusations Of Racism

The farmer's lawyer, even though he was also white, wasn't helping his client. The poor white farmer was being screwed by the system much the same way she'd seen black farmers treated. To most white people, this isn't too terribly surprising. To the Shirley Sherrod of this story, twenty or more years ago, this apparently was something of a revelation.

What Shirley Sherrod did was recognize that there was someone who needed her help, despite the fact that he was a white farmer, who she believed had treated her with less respect because she was black. The prejudice she saw him demonstrating no doubt reminded her of the sort of men who killed her father. She had plenty of potential excuses to not lift a finger for this man. Yet she did something that is so rare in America that it's heroic - she got over her prejudices, and then got over herself, and then gave this man help because that was the right thing to do.

Then she told that story as a cautionary tale to others, and for her doing that her worthless jackass of a boss fired her without even taking the time to find out what really happened.

We sometimes lionize people in America for the strangest reasons. We treat some celebrities and athletes as if just being better looking or better at sports than most everyone else is a sign of heroism. People on the political right lionize Andrew Breitbart, when the man is clearly someone who doesn't give a crap who he hurts with his lies. Yet we so often treat the real heroes so shabbily. Whistle blowers are prosecuted. Activists are ridiculed, often mercilessly. And people who try to do the right thing are fired by people who just don't give a shit about anything but their own problems.

Whatever her flaws, Shirley Sherrod has more humanity, and far more integrity, than Andrew Breitbart and the people involved in her firing put together. It's too bad she can't find bosses who are worthy of her.

(h/t Thers at FireDogLake)

Afterword: Oh, and it looks like Glenn Greenwald scooped me on this one. Oh well, this thing just drives me crazy, and it's good to vent.


Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

What about the absolute spinelessness, abject submissiveness of the Obama administration? Would a Hillary Clinton administration have been rolling over like this?

Cujo359 said...

The title of that first link, my previous article on this subject, is "We're Ruled By Spineless Cowards". So much for the Obama Administration.

Hillary Clinton strikes me as someone who will plant her feet on certain issues, but whether that would include loyalty to a low-level appointee is something I can't guess at.

lawguy said...

One thing that has interested me on some liberal blogs is the damand that we acknowledge that Obama and his people were not as bad as Brietbart and his. There is more than enough blame to go around, I think. With the exception of Ms. Sherrod herself, who is obviously a better person than most of us.

Still I don't think that really says it. Obama did throw her under the bus, he was just forced to recant.

I am nearly constantly reminded of the Russian folk tale of the woman in the sleigh being chased by wolves who threw out each member of her family one at a time in hopes that she could delay the wolves long enough to get away herself. She didn't succeed.

Cujo359 said...

To which I'd have to respond "Why the hell not?" Whatever you can say about Breitbart, he's doing what he said he was going to do. He didn't promise to reform health care, eliminate DADT, and make the rule of law important in government again, and then just forget about those promises because they weren't convenient.

One of the first things I ever wrote about Obama said he struck me as a con artist. He's provided precious little reason to think more of him in the time since.

The Ian Welsh quote from yesterday is our version of that Russian folk tale, I think. Pretty soon, Obama's going to be in that sleigh all by himself, having tossed his last ally over the side.

windy said...

They're not so spineless if the criticism is coming from the left.

Vigilante said...

Good point.

Cujo359 said...

They openly despise the left, and have stated publicly that they think it has nowhere else to go than the Democratic Party. Their entire behavior is in accord with that point. They never miss a chance to take a dump on us.

Courage requires being afraid of something. Beating on people you don't think will fight back isn't courage.