For those who have been following the Shirley Sherrod/Andrew Breitbart/NAACP/USDA story today – you might have whiplash! – here’s the full text of Sherrod’s speech before an NAACP audience in March. It’s worth watching in full.
(UPDATE: Around 2 a.m. this morning, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said he would review Sherrod’s firing. She said this morning she’s not if she wants to return to the USDA.)
If you haven’t been following the story, get up to speed over at CNN where you can see interviews with the parties involved and read through the events of the day.
The theme of Sherrod’s speech, which she repeats in various iterations throughout is, “It’s not about race. It’s about those who have and those who do not.” In other words, Sherrod tries to impart to her audience that those who believe America – and the South in particular – is divided because of race miss the point. It’s divided, she says, because of income.
There’s a strange lapse where the tape appears to be cut around 21:00, right as Sherrod is telling the story that was taken out of context today and resulted in her firing. It will be interesting to see if this is explained.
But the other parts I found notable in the video are the stories Sherrod recounts about her family and growing up in the South before and during the Civil Rights movement. Her father was murdered when she was 17 “by a white man,” she says, adding that in her county back then, “the murder of black people occurred periodically and in every case, the white men who murdered them were never punished.” No one was ever prosecuted for her father’s murder even though there were witnesses, says Sherrod. She also says after her father’s murder, a group of white men burned a cross on the front yard of her home while her mother, four sisters and baby brother were inside.
Shirley Sherrod is not, by this accounting, a person out of touch with the racial history of America. Listen to her speech and it’s clear this history is something she remembers vividly; her message to the NAACP audience seemed to be that if she can move past it, so can anyone else.
In her speech, Sherrod, who grew up on a farm in Georgia, said she desperately wanted to move to the North after high school, but that her father’s murder spurred her to stay and commit herself to helping black people. (He was killed in 1965.) Sherrod said over time – in part because of her experience with the white farmer she talked about in the edited Breitbart clip – she realized her goal was to help poor people, not black people.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who fired Sherrod, said today that he stands by his decision. The White House says it supports him. The NAACP reversed its condemnation of Sherrod and urged Vilsack to reconsider his decision. We’ll find out in the coming days if he decides to.