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WikiLeaks Claims Cache of U.S. Military Records; Ships Return to Well Site; Williams out of Tea Party Express; Who is Shirley Sherrod?

Aired July 25, 2010 - 22:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Our special report "Who is Shirley Sherrod" will begin in just a moment.

But first we have a lot of major news developments to report tonight and they deal with war. The war in Afghanistan. A potential bombshell tonight, and what we know in that war, especially when it comes to civilian deaths., a whistleblower Web site, has published what it says are nearly 92,000 official U.S. documents of raw data on the deaths and casualties collected over the past six years. Julian Assange, the founder of the Web site, calls it, quote, "The Total History of the Afghan War," from 2001 until now 2010. Assange claims the documents reveal firsthand accounts of relatively small incidents that have added up to huge numbers of dead civilians. CNN has not confirmed the authenticity of the claim or the documents which supposedly come from both U.S. military and diplomatic sources.

But it's already provoked an angry response from the Obama administration. And national security advisor General James Jones says publishing the document was, quote, "irresponsible and could put lives at risk and threaten national security." The documents were released tonight on the Internet, but "The New York Times" has had access to them for weeks. Their own reporting strongly suggests what many in the U.S. military have long suspected. The Taliban are getting intelligence and assistance from Pakistan.

"The New York Times" reporter Chris Chivers joins me now by telephone.

So, Chris, what did you found as you have been pouring over these thousands of documents.

CHRIS CHIVERS, "NEW YORK TIMES" (via telephone): I think we could find that the documents are so extensive that you can go hacking your way through them in almost any number of different directions. As you said, they tell us a lot about civilian casualties and they suggest that many of the incidents of civilian casualties that have gathered the most attention actually have not accumulated nearly the number of casualties, the much more routine and small events that occur on patrols and checkpoints around the country day in and day out, week in and week out. They tell us something about the connections between the Afghan insurgency and operations in Pakistan of the leadership of various insurgent groups. They tell us something about how difficult the war is and how the Taliban fights on the ground. They tell us a lot about individual commanders. But you can -- basically there are so many records. You can go off in almost any direction and try to explore almost any theme about the war.

LEMON: Yes. As we said there are many of them. So listen, here's the question. How much of this stuff is true? This is just raw data and not necessarily documentation of hard fact.

CHIVERS: What you have here is you have a variety of reports of different types. Many of them are simple incident reports. The military describing in their view from the guys on the ground what happened. Incident by incident. A shooting at a checkpoint. A patrol to go meet a group of elders. The distribution of humanitarian aid in the village. Those reports the military will tell you is true. They did not dispute the authenticity of those reports. That's their own account. The things they were involve in or did.

Now there are other reports that are what you'd call an intelligence summary. It's a distillation of something that a source may have brought to someone in the military or to someone in one of the intelligence services. And that information, like any source-base information is only as good as the person who brought it forward. That person may have a motive. That person may simply have been wrong. You don't necessarily know.

But in other way when you take the pictures together, they serve -- or the documents together, they serve as something of a mosaic. So you shouldn't rest much on any one document. It's the body together as you search through the records that begins to give you sort of a pixelated picture of the theme that you are interested in looking at.

LEMON: All right. Chris Chivers from "The New York Times." Thank you very much for your reporting.

And for more now about the organization that released these documents, we want to go to CNN's Atika Shubert. She is in London.

Atika, what can you tell us about WikiLeaks and its founder?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well WikiLeaks is founded by a Julian Assange. She's a former hacker. And basically he's used his skills at encryption to try and basically put -- make the Wikileaks Web site which allows for secure anonymous whistleblowers to put their documents in and make them secure and anonymous.

Now that means that WikiLeaks verifies this information with their own sources, with their own journalists. We have not been able to independently verify the authenticity of these documents. And it's going to take some time. There's more than 90,000 of these reports. But WikiLeaks so far has a very good track record. And they say that they have never put out anything that's been a forgery or a hoax, that the track record so far is 100 percent.

Now Julianna Assange himself is quite a bit of a character in the sense that he's a former hacker. He's very elusive. He travels around the world. He has no -- you know, no set permanent home. And he is also believed to have been wanted by FBI officials who have been wanting him for questioning, or at least that's what he believes. And that's why he's now refusing to travel to the United States.

He says his motivation for putting out this information is that he simply wants more transparency. He wants abuses that are being conducted in this war to be corrected. Here's what he told us in an interview about the documents that have been put out today.


JULIAN ASSANGE, WIKILEAKS EDITOR: It's sort of the total squalor of the war. So all these people killed in the small events that we haven't heard about, which numerically eclipse the big events. The big civilian casualty events. It's the boy killed by a shell that missed a target. Villages that have gone to hostile as a result of a missed air strike.


SHUBERT: Now you heard from "The New York Times" reporter earlier that really there is so much information here that Wikileaks itself can't go through all of this. Three other newspapers have had difficulty. They've just scratched the surface of what's in these records. So what WikiLeaks says is that it's making it open to the public so that everybody, not just journalists, but soldiers, witnesses, anybody involved in these events can look up the information, verify them and tell the world what's really happening in Afghanistan.

LEMON: And Atika, thank you very much. And as journalists and the administration and others pour over these documents we're going to learn much, much more about them. Again, our thanks to Atika Shubert.

And all of this comes tonight where in Afghanistan, one American sailor is reportedly dead. Another is believed to be in the hands of the enemy. The Taliban says they tried to take both men alive in Logar Province, but a firefight broke out and one of them was killed. The other sailor was reportedly wounded. The Navy has not released the sailors' identities, but a U.S. military official says there's a $20,000 reward for information.

Still ahead here on CNN --


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The spill was so enormous and yet you are having trouble finding the oil to skim it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not for lack of trying.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: You heard it right. Millions of barrels of crude have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico and the Coast Guard officials say they are having a hard time finding it.

But first, the man who has become the face of the BP oil disaster, Tony Hayward, may soon be unemployed. We'll explain.


LEMON: BP's chief executive Tony Hayward reportedly is on his way out. That is according to news accounts in the British media, which Hayward is negotiating the terms of his departure. No confirmation, however, from BP. Hayward has been under fire for his handling of the gulf oil disaster and gave up leadership of the response efforts in June. But a BP spokesman says Hayward has, quote, "the full support of the board." That board meets tomorrow, by the way.

And out in the gulf. Ships have returned to the site of the wounded BP well after being chased away by a storm. Our David Mattingly flew over the sight today. And here's what he saw.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): All the pieces are coming back together. In a Coast Guard flyover of the spill site, we saw platforms and ships gearing back up to kill the BP well. After running for cover from a tropical storm that never arrived. But there's one thing we don't see. What happened to all the pools of thick crude oil?

REAR. ADM. PAUL ZUKUNFT, FEDERAL ON-SCENE COORDINATOR: This oil is rapidly breaking down. And there's very little oil left. We have a few streamers that we located earlier off of Grand Isle that perhaps can be skimmed. But right now we're not seeing many targets for our skimming fleet of 780 skimmers.

MATTINGLY: You realize when you say that, it's so hard for people to believe that this spill was so enormous and yet you are having trouble finding the oil to skim it?

ZUKUNFT: Well, it's not for lack of trying. We have had 50 aircraft saturating this very location where satellites indicate there could be oil sheen in the area. And so we're going to look just like we would doing search and rescue to see where any possible target pocket of oil might be over this area.

MATTINGLY: Remarkably, the Coast Guard says surface oil from the BP spill could be gone in a matter of weeks. As the sheen and bands of weathered oil continue to dissipate and evaporate.

(on camera): What we're finding out is that the storm didn't have any effect on the oil at all. The wind and the waves that it produced weren't strong enough to help break the oil up. So in other words, that storm, when it came through, was just a big waste of some very valuable time. (voice-over): The best estimates now, the operations that will fill the well with drilling mud are at least a week away. And the worry lingers of future storms and the impact they could have. A hurricane season game of cat and mouse where time is of the essence.

David Mattingly, CNN, over the Gulf of Mexico.


LEMON: All right, David.

Last weekend, the National Tea Party Federation said it kicked him out after controversial blog posts that the federation called an embarrassment. Now Mark Williams has resigned from the Tea Party Express, and there he is. Up next, I will talk with him and ask him about that post, and why he decided to step down.


LEMON: All right. A lot of you sent me tweets, e-mails saying what happened to Mark Williams. He's about to join us live because it's been a very trying time, very trying two weeks for him. He got into a heated battle over the -- over race with the NAACP. The National Tea Party Federation says it kicked out his group, the Tea Party Express, for controversial comments he made and on Friday, he chose to resign from the Tea Party Express altogether.

Mark Williams joins us now live from Sacramento, California. Mark is also the author, I should say, of the book "Taking Back America One Tea Party at a Time."

Mark, thanks for joining us.


LEMON: You were supposed to be on last weekend but you canceled on us and this is the first chance I've had to talk to you. So I want to ask you, why did you resign from the Tea Party Express?

WILLIAMS: To take the spotlight off of me. It's a movement. It's not about me. It's not about my ego. It's not about my fat head. I did succeed in getting the NAACP to the table. And by the way this tea party federation which represents exactly 40 groups out of 5,000, I was never a member of. I have no idea who they are, but they threw me out. So --


LEMON: OK. So listen, if you say that you wanted to take the spotlight off of you, I have to ask you then why did you accept this interview if you don't want to be in the spotlight?

WILLIAMS: I weaselled on you last time. The reason why I canceled last time was because the day before David Webb went on TV and did all this nonsense about kicking me out of a group I never belong to, I had sat down with the urban league, the NAACP, Reverend Al and a bunch of other people and we reached an agreement to put all the rancour behind us and find common ground.

This guy Webb looking for headlines, cashing in, whatever it was, decided he would chime in. That makes me the issue when the issue should really be America and what we're working to save.


WILLIAMS: I am still a tea partier. I just don't speak officially for the Tea Party Express.

LEMON: OK, listen, I want to go back and read this first again, because it's the first time I have talk to you. Go back and read the first part of your letter to Lincoln that you posted on your blog and then later removed. It says, "We colored people don't cotton -- we colored people have taken a vote and decide we don't cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us colored people and we demand that it's stop."

Are you still defending this as satire, Mark?

WILLIAMS: I defend the idea behind it. I certainly am upset with my sloppy execution of it. But when a group that calls itself colored people says it's against freedom and emancipation and it's against self-determination, the first thing that pops into my mind is those colored people must be speaking for some bizarre group of people that I'm not familiar with. And in people's mind, when people say they use the words colored and black interchangeably, that's in their heads.


LEMON: I think you are a smart guy.


LEMON: And I think you know the NAACP is an historic organization which got its name 100 years ago before there was anything about colored, black, African-American. And there is some debate even among African-Americans about changing the name. But you are a smart enough guy to know that you can't use that word just like you can't call people the "N" word. You used to be able to do that. We still say the negro league when we talk about old timers in baseball, but you don't walk around calling people Negros. So why do you use that defense? It seems like your being disingenuous about it.

WILLIAMS: No. I used the name of the group and I used what they call themselves. And I used the intent behind their -- behind their resolution. And when we sat down and we agreed to put all that behind us, and I agreed on national television, by the way, on another network, that I was over the top with it, we put it behind us. And the next day this bottom feeder Webb just went and destroyed all of that and turned it into a big debate over me.

LEMON: I have to say that Mr. Webb is not here to defend himself. But I have to say you also used Massa and other things you talked about colored televisions and whatever. That's not appropriate either.

WILLIAMS: The colored television remark was about socio-economic divisions. And yes I did change the language. And if you go back to the -- I left all the original comments where the post was. There were people who challenged me on my language. I went back in. I agreed with them. And I changed that language is getting the way of my point that --

LEMON: Are you sorry for writing some of those things --


WILLIAMS: Beg your pardon?

LEMON: Are you sorry for writing some of those things?

WILLIAMS: Am I -- I'm sorry I missed part of what you said?

LEMON: Are you sorry for writing some of those things like Massa and some of the language that you used?

WILLIAMS: I'm sorry for putting it the way I put it because it detracted from a very serious message. I was not trying to be funny. I was trying to be as serious as a heart attack. And anytime a group that calls black people colored lectures me on racism. I take umbrage of that, especially when their goal and the resolution they passed was to increase government dependency.

LEMON: OK, Mark. Let's -- we've exhausted that subject. I want to talk about something else here.


LEMON: About the Shirley Sherrod story. I want to talk about Andrew Breitbart. I don't have the exact quotes here. But you said that she should be reinstated.


LEMON: And Andrew Breitbart posted that out of context clip on his Web site. Do you think he did this as a rebut tool to what happened to you, and if so, do you feel vindicated by it?

WILLIAMS: No. He put up what he put up to show the reaction of the people in that room at that NAACP meeting, where she recounted a 24-year-old story and when she got to the part about how she -- she was inclined to act racist based on what had happened to her in her life, they reacted positively to that. That's what Andrew was showing. And I -- and that's absolutely accurate.

But she was fired by the Obama administration before her name was even mentioned on any TV networks or anything. They reacted immediately in a racist fashion and threw her out. Her story is one of overcoming racism. It's a great story. But the people in that room where she told that story were absolutely happy when she got to the part where she said she wanted to act racistly and when she decided that that's not how she wanted to be.


LEMON: Mark, I would tell you, I would tell you to go back and look at that tape because there's no one applauding or no one cheering or laughing. There are some hmms in there. So go back and look at it carefully. The whole tape.

WILLIAMS: I will do that.

LEMON: I've got to run only because of time, but I want to ask you this. Just a one-word answer.

Are you still going to be part of the tea party?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. I am an American. I have to be.

LEMON: All right. Mark Williams, thank you.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

LEMON: We're back in a moment here on CNN. Thank you, Mark.


LEMON: Now for a look at stories that will be making news in the week ahead from the White House to Capitol Hill to Hollywood. We start at the White House.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Dan Lothian at the White House. This will be yet another busy week for President Obama as the administration turns its focus to what they see as two important issues with the midterm elections in view. President Obama will be talking up jobs and the economy when he hits the road to New Jersey, and then later to New York City for a fund-raiser. This is part of an overall effort by the administration to fight to keep Democrats in power and also reassure Americans that they are doing everything possible to turn the economy around.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Brianna Keilar on Capitol Hill. A very busy week ahead for Congress. The Senate is expected to begin debate on a scaled back energy bill. And the House will likely pass a paired down war funding bill before leaving for August recess.

And Thursday is especially busy. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing where some Democrats will allege that BP lobbied Britain to release the Lockerbie bomber.

PAUL STEINHAUSER CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I'm Paul Steinhauser at the CNN political desk. With 100 days and counting until November's midterm elections, expect a busy week of fund-raising and campaigning across the country. On Thursday, here in Washington, Congressman Charlie Rangel is in the hot seat. That's when the House Ethics Committee is expected to announce just what rules the long-time New York Democratic congressman broke. All this could add up with Rangel on the stand in a rare congressional trial come September.

A.J. HAMMER, SHOWBIZ TONIGHT HOST: I'm "Showbiz Tonight's" A.J. Hammer. And we are expecting big news breaking this week in the case of the alleged Mel Gibson rant and rave tapes. Police are investigating claims his ex-girlfriend tried to extort him. And also investigating claims that Mel abused her.

Also, could Lindsay Lohan get out of jail early? This week? "Showbiz Tonight" has all the big news breaking. We're live on HLN at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, we are still TV's most provocative entertainment news show at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.

LEMON: All right, thank you. This week, Shirley Sherrod became a household name. Up next, a revealing and insightful look at the woman behind the controversy.


LEMON: Shirley Sherrod, right now, is mulling over a new job offer from the Obama administration. It is a consolation of sorts for the shabby treatment she got this week after a right-wing blogger unfairly portrayed her as racist against whites.

And for the next half hour, you are going to meet a humble and remarkable woman who did everything right but still fell victim to a vicious smear. I spent the day with her to find out who is Shirley Sherrod.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Shirley Sherrod was accused of racism.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You reached out to her and say, what is it that you talk about? When did this happen?

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Did you discriminate?

BILL O'REILLY, FOX HOST: Shirley Sherrod caught on tape saying something very disturbing.

SHIRLEY SHERROD, FMR. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE WORKER: I told them get the whole tape and look at the whole tape.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We begin tonight with the smearing of Shirley Sherrod.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is showing racism at an NAACP event.

SHERROD: He didn't care who he destroyed.

O'REILLY: Ms. Sherrod must resign immediately. SHIRLEY SHERROD: No one wanted to hear the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know what brought up the race issue in this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a good woman. She's been put through hell.

LEMON (voice-over): At the center of this fury and frenzy.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": Please welcome, Shirley Sherrod.

LEMON: Shirley Sherrod, an unassuming woman from rural Georgia, now a household name.

O'REILLY: Shirley Sherrod.

HARRIS: Shirley Sherrod.

LEMON: Shirley Sherrod, burning up the air waves.

HARRIS: Racial controversy.

LEMON: Thrust into a political firestorm.

HARRIS: Was there ever a discrimination claim filed against you.


LEMON: Turning up the heat on the White House.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: On behalf of the administration, I offer our apologies.

LEMON: All this attention couldn't be farther from Sherrod's humble roots. Roots, though, that grounded her in the dangerous, even deadly world of racial tensions.

Newton, Georgia, the Deep South. 180 miles south of Atlanta. A typical southern farming town.

SHERROD: You had to get up before daylight and get food, and try to be in the field as the sun was coming up.

LEMON: Walking down the streets near her home town, Sherrod remembers working in the cotton fields as a young child.

SHERROD: You had a sack, you know, that you put on, and the sack went over this shoulder, you know, and the opening was here. So you're bending over picking cotton and putting it in the sack. And when it gets full, then you've got to take it over to a burlap sheet and pour it on there. And you did that all day long.

LEMON (voice-over): Shirley Sherrod's family has lived in this area since the 1800s, all farmers, sharecroppers who over the years bought more and more of the land they worked.

She grew up in a small house with her father, Hosie Miller, her mother, Grace, and her five younger sisters. Sandra, one of them, recalls how her father always wanted a boy.

SANDRA MILLER JONES, SHIRLEY'S SISTER: He called us boys' name. Shirley was Bill. My sister next to Shirley was Gus. I was Sam Cook, and they still called me Sam. Then my sister next to me was Blue because she has blue-green eyes and my baby sister was Biddy because she was the runner on the group. In a way, he would talk to us at the dinner table and he would always say find yourself and don't ever forget, help everybody you can.

GRACE MILLER, SHIRLEY'S MOTHER: My husband always believed in feeding kids. Our home was the center for everybody's child to come in and have joy.

LEMON: But the chores weren't easy.

S. SHERROD: We had to pump water early on because we didn't have any electric well, and we had to pump water now, not just for us. The cows had to have water, the hogs had to have water. The chickens had to have water. So, you know, we were pumping water for everyone. We were so happy when we got an electric pump. We no longer had to pump water.

LEMON (on camera): So that was your upbringing.

S. SHERROD: Yes, and church. Oh, don't forget church. Every time the church doors opened, we were there.

LEMON: Sherrod's father was a deacon. She believes it was that devotion that got their family through tough times.

S. SHERROD: The lord will make a way somehow. My mother used to sing it around the house all the time.

When you hear her singing it, I think I know why now she would sing it because times were so hard. And she would always sing that song "THE LORD WILL MAKE a Way Somehow."

LEMON (voice-over): The farming was hard. Being black, even harder. The 1960s, Jim Crow laws divided the south and the racist.

(on camera): Growing up in the segregated south for people who don't know about it, what was that like?

SHERROD: We would always, always get the hand-me-downs from the white school. They would get the new buses; we would get the used buses. They would get the new books; we would get their books that had pages torn out of them.

MILLER: They couldn't even drink water at the water fountain. They had to go to the colored side and they had to go to the bathroom where it was filthy. If they went to the restaurant to get a sandwich, you had to go to the back window and they would hand you a sandwich out of the back window. It was rough.

LEMON (voice-over): And dangerous.

MILLER: We knew where to go, where not to go. And if you did, you knew what would happen to you. It was dangerous even on the highway riding along, because those sheriff deputies would stop people and beat up folk.

LEMON: Sherrod remembers that sheriff.

S. SHERROD: He loved being called a "gator." And he could do -- I don't know -- I never heard an alligator make a sound myself. But the sound an alligator makes is the sound he would make and it was supposed to scare you to death.

During the civil rights movement in Baker County, he had a sign up at his service station saying "We want white people business only." Yes, I grew up knowing we were powerless.

LEMON: Yet, at an early age, Shirley witnessed blacks fighting for power. It was the fall of 1961. She was just 14.

TV ANCHOR: Albany, Georgia, a Negro fight against segregation is led by the Reverend Martin Luther King.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: And if necessary, we must be willing to fill up the jails all over the state of Georgia.

LEMON: Civil rights leaders descended on nearby Albany, Georgia, fighting through the segregation through non-violence protest meetings and marches. It was called the Albany movement and it lasted nearly a year. More than 1,000 protesters ended up in jail. It was unsuccessful, yet it made an impression on young Shirley.

(on camera): You were 14 years old.

S. SHERROD: We were supportive of the Albany movement. We were raising money to support the Albany movement.

LEMON: It was a tough time to live, and even tougher time to grow up.

S. SHERROD: I didn't want to live in the south. I planned to get out of the south forever.

LEMON: You wanted to leave.


LEMON: But that all changed one spring day in 1965.

S. SHERROD: They called me to the principal's office. I was such a good girl. Good student. I couldn't figure out why they were calling me to the office. But I went. And they told me first that he had been shot.

LEMON: The murder that changed Shirley Sherrod's life forever. When we come back.




LEMON (voice-over): As a young girl, Shirley Sherrod, she was Shirley Miller then, dreamed of getting out of the Deep South.

S. SHERROD: We had these big plans for me. I was trying to look at going to schools in the north, you know. Back then they said a woman would find a husband at college, you know. I thought, OK. I'm not going to risk even going to a college in the south because I don't want no husband from the south. I want go north.

LEMON: Meanwhile her father was on the verge of fulfilling one of his dreams. With five daughters, his wife was pregnant again and he was sure this would be a boy.

MILLER: He had a room built. The room back there was blue. He said this is going to be for my boy. And he planned it. He told me. He said, when we go pick the baby up out of the hospital, I'm going to get you a brand new car and bring my baby home in a car.

LEMON (on camera): But the family's dreams were about to shatter. In 1965 in this field, Shirley's father and a white neighbor reportedly butted heads, a dispute over who owned which cattle. Shirley says witnesses saw the confrontation.

S. SHERROD: According to the others, my father told him we don't have to continue arguing. We can just go to court. And he was walking to his truck to leave. He turned around to say something and the man shot him right up here.

LEMON (voice-over): Shirley at school was called to the principal's office.

S. SHERROD: They brought me in to tell me first because I'm the oldest, and then they sent for my four sisters. And we were all there in the office just crying. We didn't know whether he was dead or alive.

JONES: That was our hero. That was our dad. And we had a teacher that took us to the hospital and to see daddy lying out on a bed like that, it was -- it was horrible. I mean --

LEMON: As for prosecuting the suspect --

S. SHERROD: He was never, ever prosecuted. The white grand jury in Baker County refused to indict him.

LEMON (on camera): Did it make you hate white people?

S. SHERROD: You know, initially I wanted to hate white people. I wanted to hate -- I wanted to get back at every white person. My initial thought that night was I needed to go pick up a gun and go find him, but I knew I couldn't do that because it just wasn't me.

LEMON (voice-over): Everything had been turned upside down, and Shirley's cherish plans to head north suddenly seemed uncertain.

S. SHERROD: That was a full moon, and I sat there praying and asking god to please give me an answer. I have to do something. I need to do something.

LEMON (on camera): When you prayed to that god and that full moon, what happened?

S. SHERROD: It was almost like he spoke to me, in my mind. I didn't hear anyone talking. But what came to me was you can give up your dream of living in the north, you can stay in the south and devote your life to working for change. And I remember a calmness came over me because I had a game plan.

LEMON: After graduating from high school, Shirley enrolled in a local college for black students. Her younger sisters integrated the all-white high school and faced a terrifying backlash.

JONES: I was doing homework, and I heard all these cars coming down the road. We're being -- we're out in the back woods in the country, that's unusual. When I looked out the window, I saw this cross, and it was burning. So I went to wake my mother.

MILLER: And I was in the bed. And she called me. She said, mother, get up here. There's a cross burning out in the front of the yard. I said, what? She said cross.

JONES: Well, my mother was not afraid. She had children there, young children, my brother just born. Of course, she went to get a gun.

MILLER: My second daughter, Lynn, was here. I said get on the telephone and start calling for people.

JONES: They came immediately and they put their cars in front of our house in a line and they started shooting.

MILLER: And I went to the door, and there was this loud talking out there and I started shooting.

JONES: They knew that our family was very active in the movement, so they were trying to scare us.

MILLER: But I really do believe some of them got sprinkled that night with buck shots because my brother-in-law and his son was out there letting it go through the wood.

S. SHERROD: That's how we stuck together. That's the strength we gained from each other in a civil rights movement.

LEMON: The local civil rights organizer was a transplant from Virginia, where he helped found the student non-violent coordinating committee. A young firebrand name Charles Sherrod. CHARLES SHERROD, SHIRLEY'S HUSBAND: We had no idea of the monster that we were undertaking to fight.

LEMON (on camera): Across the south. White officials were using every trick in the book to keep civil rights activists in check, to keep black voters from turning out. That helped set the stage for a violent confrontation as demonstrators began to gather here at the courthouse in downtown Newton on the day that became known as Bloody Saturday.

C. SHERROD: I saw some whites coming out of the hardware store with axe handles, and they approached us and started beating us with the axe handles. They beat us down to the ground.

S. SHERROD: And my aunt Josie, she's a little petite woman. She fell on. You know, she put her body over his and was hollering at them to stop beating Charles Sherrod because they were going to kill him.

LEMON (voice-over): But that didn't stop Sherrod from driving back roads to meet every black family in the area.

C. SHERROD: I was canvassing in Baker County, knocking on the door and three or four pretty girls came to the door. They started talking about this girl, their sister, that was prettier than either one of them. I want to see this girl. So they said they got a picture. I said I want to see this picture of your sister. And I pointed at it, and I said, I'm going to marry that girl.

LEMON: He did marry Shirley. It was a love story in a land of hate. Phone threats became part of the household routine.

C. SHERROD: We're going to blow up your head up, you better be at your house. We're going to burn you down. We're going to do this. We're going to do the other. It was just the regular nigger, nigger, nigger.

MILLER: I would just tell them to be careful because I knew they were determined. And I just tell them to be careful. My heart would just bleed for them going home because I didn't know whether they would make it there or not.

JONES: She kept telling Shirley, you got to stop. But she kept pushing. She said, mother, it's going to be all right.

LEMON: Just ahead, organizing black farmers to take on the white establishment.




LEMON (voice-over): Here on her family farm in Baker County, Georgia, Shirley Sherrod's experiences as a young girl would shape her professional life. With black owned farms heading toward extinction, Sherrod wanted to help.

MILLER: That's when she made up her mind that she was going to stay here and try to help make a difference in this community. She's always been determined. A strong person.

LEMON: In 1967, Shirley and Charles set out to change the land literally, 6,000 acres to be exact. They helped create a land trust for black farmers with a long-range plan to build wealth. It was called "New Communities." One acre at a time it grew into one of the largest tracts of black-owned land in the country.

S. SHERROD: So the whole idea of "New Communities," was this plan, was to go about the country, buying land, holding it in trust, and turning it over to local community development corporations.

LEMON: It embodied everything she hoped to achieve when she decided to stay in the south, an achievement that would have made her father proud. But the Sherrods' white neighbors viciously opposed it, often resorting to violence, shooting at their home.

KENYATTA SHERROD, SON: I remember the bullet hole over my bunk bed. You know, it was, I guess, a third of my life I had the bullet hole right by where I slept

RUSSIA SHERROD, DAUGHTER: I was actually asleep and I was awakened by him karate chopping my door in and telling me to get down. And you can't imagine what that does to a young child.

LEMON (on camera): In the beginning the farm was successful, but the drought-stricken '70s forced Sherrod's organization to seek an emergency government loan. The money came, but not for three years. By then it was much too late. According to the Sherrod's, white agents were in no hurry to write checks to black farmers. The property was foreclosed on.

C. SHERROD: The first three years we made attempts to get loans from FHA. This is a government program, which promoted itself as the last help which could get from anywhere. But in our case, when I walked into the office, they told me the only way you get a loan is over my dead body.

LEMON: After losing the farm, life for the Sherrod family became very different. Money was tight, bills mounted.

K. SHERROD: I'd walk in a couple times late at night, getting up and see my mother crying over bills.

LEMON: In 1984, Shirley Sherrod took a job at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, headquartered in East Point, Georgia. Her boss was Jerry Pennick.

JERRY PENNICK, SHIRLEY's FORMER BOSS: She was able to save a lot of farmers of all races. Hundreds of farmers in Georgia that were impacted by Shirley. Nationwide, they got probably thousands.

LEMON: One of the white farmers she helped, Roger Spooner. But she was hesitant to help out at first, and that initial hesitation would later ignite a media frenzy.

In 1999, Shirley Sherrod and other activists sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture for discrimination. Ten years later, Pigford versus Glickman would become part of the largest civil rights settlement in history.

S. SHERROD: Finally on July 8 of last year our lawyer called me and says Shirley have you heard. It's like 10:30 at night. She said we won. And I'm like, really? She said do you want to guess how much? I said, is it at least a million dollars, Rose? She said almost $13 million. He was awarding $150,000 each to me and my husband from mental anguish.

LEMON: Just weeks after the settlement, Sherrod was offered a job at the very department she had just successfully sued. In August of 2009, Shirley Sherrod became the Georgia director of rural development for the Department of Agriculture. Speculation has surfaced raising questions about whether she got the job as part of the settlement.

S. SHERROD: One didn't have anything to do with the other.

LEMON (on camera): Are you surprised this people are bringing this up? I don't know. How do you feel about people bringing it up?

S. SHERROD: You know -- you know, it's just another way that they try to twist the facts to make it look and seem like something else.

LEMON (voice-over): During her long career fighting for civil rights, there was one life-changing moment, a story about her personal struggle over race. The story of that white farmer who came to her for help decades earlier.

S. SHERROD: I was struggling with the fact that so many black people have lost their farmland, and here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land. So I didn't give him the full force of what I could do.

LEMON: When this short edited version of the speech was posted by a right-wing blogger, Shirley Sherrod was labeled a racist and asked to resign. But there was much more to the story.

S. SHERROD: That's when it was revealed to me that it's about the poor versus those who have and not so much about. It is about white and black, but it's not, you know, it opened my eyes.

LEMON: The next day, Sherrod appeared on CNN. She said her words had been twisted and taken out of context.


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: What was the point?

S. SHERROD: The point was to get them to understand we need to look beyond race. (END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Stepping in to back up her story, 87-year-old Roger Spooner and his wife, Eloise.

S. SHERROD: I have someone who wants to speak to this whole controversy. Her name is Eloise Spooner.

Eloise, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. What do you think of this whole controversy? First of all, what do you think of Shirley?

ELOISE SPOONER, FARMER'S WIFE: She's a good friend. They have not treated her right. She's one I give credit to helping us save our farm.

S. SHERROD: The woman whose father was allegedly killed by a white farmer would have her reputation rescued by a white farmer. Sherrod hadn't seen or spoken to the Spooners in more than 20 years. But three days after grabbing headlines across the nation -- that would change.

JERRY SPOONER, FARMER: I want the first hug. This means a lot to us. This means a lot to us.

E. SPOONER: It means so much to me.

S. SHERROD: It means a lot to me, too. Thank you. Thank you.

LEMON: A long awaited reunion, a picture of racial unity.


LEMON: I'm Don Lemon. I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for watching. I'll see you back here next weekend. Have a great week and have a good night.