Donald Trump is appointing one of the most egregious media people in the country to serve as his Chief Strategist – Steve Bannon of the Briebart News! This is mind boggling and disturbing. In 2012, Bannon became the executive chairman of Breitbart News. Briebart “is a politically conservative American news, opinion and commentary website noted for its connection to the alt-right” (Wikipedia). (See information below in the addendum about the “alt-right”.) While there are many stories about this conservative media entity, below is one of the most astounding deliberate lies and distortions emanating from Briebart News and it had to do with the renowned civil rights leader Shirley Sherrod in 2010.
In 2010, Andrew Briebart (1969-2012) attempted to implicate Shirley Sherrod as a racist because of a speech she gave at an NAACP meeting in Georgia in March 2010. The speech, in video form, had been completely distorted by Briebart News. Sherrod was immediately forced to resign from her US Department of Agriculture (USDA) position in Georgia as a result.
At the time, however, I was Director of Communications for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund where Shirley had worked before taking the USDA position. I spoke with Shirley the day after she got word from USDA that she was being forced to resign. This unconscionable action by Briebart and the USDA was astounding. For one, Briebart was seemingly deliberately attempting to undermine our civil rights leadership in the US. Secondly, the USDA believed him without even a review of the video to determine its validity. Astounding! Ultimately, Shirley did sue Briebart and there was a settlement. (Click here for the joint statement regarding the settlement.) The point is, however, in my opinion, you can’t believe anything coming from Briebart News. And this is the person Trump chooses as his Chief Strategist – Bannon, the executive manager of Briebart! What a mess!
In 2010, I wrote two articles about Shirley and this controversy that were posted on Counterpunch. One article, entitled “The Saga of Shirley Sherrod” was essentially about the USDA and Shirley, and other one was about How Shirley Sherrod Saved a White-Owned Farm in South Georgia.
Below is an edited version of the article about Shirley saving the white-owned farm combined with information about the Briebart and USDA incident.
Discrimination against Shirley Sherrod by Briebart and about Sherrod saving a White Farmer’s land
In March 2010, Shirley Sherrod spoke before the NAACP in Douglas, Georgia. As the first Black director of the USDA’s Rural Development in Georgia, and a long history of advocating for justice and civil rights in the rural south, Shirley had much to share.
One experience, that Shirley has recounted numerous times with audiences, was how she helped save the farm of a white family in the 1980’s. It was life changing for her. She talked about this at the NAACP gathering and it was her presentation at this gathering that was distorted and distributed by Fox News and that led to her being forced to resign from USDA. The distortion made it look as if Shirley was racist; that she had not provided the assistance that she could or should to a white farmer who asked her for assistance. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The consequence of the distorted video and the actions of the Secretary of Agriculture by asking Shirley to resign is yet another shameful chapter in the history of American agriculture and the USDA. The decision by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack was made without him knowing the details. Nevertheless, he did apologize, as did President Obama, and that is, at least, appropriate and Shirley accepted their apologies.
I spoke with Shirley the morning after she was asked to resign and she shared with me what happened at the NAACP event as well as her experience with the white farmer who was referred to in the distorted video.
Here is the unedited full speech Shirley gave at the NAACP meeting:
First, though, a definition of racism needs to be given and it is this: Everyone (white, black or brown) can and often does discriminate against someone else. This is probably human nature. Racism, however, is defined as “discrimination plus the power to enforce your discriminatory views”. In no way can Blacks be racist in America. Blacks don’t control the government, the banks, corporate America, or the courts. At the helm of these institutions in America are whites – and predominantly white males.
I am a white female and know that it’s those of us who are white who are the racists. We control everything and can enforce our discriminatory views be it against blacks, immigrants, the poor, etc. You name whatever the prevailing discriminatory view might be among whites and rest assured we can usually enforce it. You can also rest assured that by doing so we whites demonstrate not a semblance of justice or an understanding of so-called democracy.
It’s we who are white who are in need of learning about justice and democracy and what they mean and about our abysmal supremacist past. We are the ones who need to get beyond our intransigent views. Shirley tries to teach us.
In the 1980’s Shirley was Georgia Field Director for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (Federation) that works primarily with Black farmers throughout the South. The organization grew out of the civil rights movement to assist farmers and rural communities across the region with, for example, land retention, access to credit and USDA programs, housing, farm management and importantly cooperative economic development. It continues with this important work today.
The 1980’s were a time when black and white farmers were losing their farms in record numbers.
In 1986, Shirley was approached by a white farmer who needed help. This was the first time she had been asked for
The meeting at first was somewhat uncomfortable. Spooner spent much of the time at the beginning of their discussion, according to Shirley, trying to demonstrate that he was superior to her. Southern poor whites have been socialized into thinking they are better than Blacks. It is always the classic divide and rule strategy by the white elite in the South to keep whites and blacks separated and controlled. In fact, Shirley mentions this scenario in her NAACP speech about the history of how the races were divided by the white elite and why.
But in spite of all, Shirley recognized Spooner needed help.
There was a lot to consider as to what would be best for him and where she should seek assistance for him. She also thought that perhaps it was best that someone in the white community help him as her networks were not necessarily prepared to rally assistance for white farmers.
It was the beginning of a process that changed Shirley’s life as well as that of the Spooner family. It was a growing and learning time for both.
Spooner’s visit to Shirley came just after Congress had passed the Chapter 12 bankruptcy provision to assist family farmers. Under Chapter 12 farmers could hold on to their land while arranging whatever they could to retain ownership. Chapter 12 also required that farmers had been in operation the previous year, otherwise, they were not able to file.
He needed an attorney. Shirley contacted a white attorney in Albany who she knew had gone through the Chapter 12 training. She also went with Spooner to the meeting with the attorney.
She, Spooner and his wife Eloise, then kept in close contact in the subsequent months and years as Spooner tried to hold on to his farm. Shirley helped him every step of the way.
One of the challenges faced by Spooner, however, and what was an eye opener for Shirley, was that the USDA county supervisor had rented Spooner’s farm to other producers without his approval. Because of this, Spooner was not able to file Chapter 12, as he could not claim having farmed the year before. Shirley had never witnessed this kind of abusive behavior by the USDA county supervisors even against Black farmers.
As it turned out, the Albany attorney was abysmal and did little for Spooner. Finally, in May of 1987, Spooner received a foreclosure notice along with 13 others in Georgia. He called Shirley and she asked him to come immediately. It was on Thursday before Memorial Day that they met. Time was limited as the farm was to be auctioned on the courthouse steps the week after Memorial Day.
They visited his Albany attorney who said, “You’re getting old, why don’t you let the farm go?” Shirley was outraged by the comment.
She then contacted another attorney in Americus, Georgia who had helped black farmers associated with the Federation. He immediately offered his assistance. On Tuesday after Memorial Day the attorney had the Spooner papers. Because Chapter 12 was not useful to Spooner, the attorney instead filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The Spooner farm was saved, although the Chapter 11 filing was just the beginning of a process. It took two years for a final resolution. In the meantime, Shirley and the Spooners kept in close contact and a friendship evolved. They would often have lunches together after discussing the case. In the late 1980’s there was a conference in Atlanta on Black landloss issues. Shirley asked if the Spooner’s would like to attend. Roger Spooner drove his truck all the way from Florida so that he and his wife could drive from Albany with Shirley to the conference in Atlanta.
The lessons learned for Shirley from this experience were profound. While she had always thought that the white community and white farmers could work the system for their benefit, she realized this was not always the case. The Spooner’s were poor whites. They, as whites, had been treated by the USDA in a way she had not witnessed. She became aware that the problems farmers experienced were not only racial, but that it was also a question of those who have and those who do not. She stressed the importance of moving beyond race and for blacks and whites to work together and help each other. It was this that Shirley wanted to share with the NAACP.
The alt-right is a loose group of people with far right ideologies who reject mainstream conservatism in the United States.The writings of the group are largely Internet-based and are found on websites such as 4chan and 8chan, where anonymous members create and use Internet memes to express themselves.It is difficult to tell how much of what people write is serious, and how much is intended to provoke outrage.Members of the alt-right use social media like Twitter and Breitbart News to convey their message.
Generally alt-right postings support Republican President-elect Donald Trump, and oppose immigration, multiculturalism and political correctness.
The alt-right has no formal ideology, although various sources have stated that white nationalism is fundamental. It has also been associated with white supremacism, Islamophobia, antifeminism, homophobia, antisemitism, ethno-nationalism, right-wing populism, nativism, traditionalism, and the neoreactionary movement. ‘Alt-right’ is a recently coined umbrella term, with no clear criteria of membership yet agreed upon. The movement has been associated with multiple ideologies from American nationalism, neo-monarchists to men’s rights advocates and people who oppose mainstream conservatism. (Wikipedia)
HEATHER GRAY is the producer of “Just Peace” on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. She has been involved in agriculture advocacy and communications for 20 years in the United States and internationally. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org