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Institutional Racism at USDA?
Aired July 20, 2010 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: So, they do not seem to be reconsidering, do not seem to be backing down.
As we consider this story and as we begin this next newscast, I am honored to report that we are the news of record for the American Forces Network at this hour. We welcome all of the troops that are watching us overseas.
Here's what is going on in the United States. Here's your "National Conversation".
SANCHEZ (voice-over): This is a special edition of "RICK'S LIST".
Is that institutional racism?
SHIRLEY SHERROD, FORMER USDA OFFICIAL: I know I didn't discriminate.
SANCHEZ: She's immediately asked to resign.
SHERROD: They asked me to resign.
SANCHEZ: Did her bosses, the government, jump the gun? Did reporters?
SHERROD: They harassed me. The administration is not interested in hearing the truth.
SANCHEZ: Was the story manipulated?
SHERROD: Pull over to the side of the road, because you're going to be on "Glenn Beck" tonight.
SANCHEZ: What did you not hear from her speech?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's the one I give credit for helping us save our farm.
SANCHEZ: What may be still one of our country's most important "National Conversation"s: "Race in America," a special edition of "RICK'S LIST".
(END VIDEOTAPE) SANCHEZ: Welcome back, everyone. I'm Rick Sanchez.
At the very top of our LIST today and perhaps the story that many Americans are talking about on this day: racial comments that led to a USDA official losing her jobs. But it's everything else that this story is encapsuled in.
The comments were about a white farmer. They were made by an African-American woman, a woman whose young life was shaped, we now learn, by an incident with her father and the KKK. This same woman later on would acquire the power to help farmers of all races, as they faced dire economic situations.
But, back to her comments, she says that, when she made her comments, she was referring to an incident that she says happened 24 years ago. And the question is this. Did this black woman not help white farmers out as much as she could have? Or was her speech -- when she seemed to suggest that, was her speech taken out of context?
I want to introduce you now to Shirley Sherrod. She's former Georgia director of rural development for the USDA.
But, first, let me show you the comments that set off the controversy. This is how this whole thing started, folks. This is the longest portion of the video that we have been able to locate so far. This is important. This is a speech that Ms. Sherrod says she gave on numerous occasions. This time, the speech was given at the NAACP's annual Freedom Fund banquet. And here's your chance to listen in full.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERROD: The first time I was faced with having to help a white farmer save his farm, he took a long time talking, but he was trying to show me that he was superior to me. I knew what he was doing, but he had come to me for help.
What he didn't know is, while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me, was I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him.
SHERROD: I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland, and here I was faced with having to help a white a person save their land.
So, I didn't give him the full force of what I could do.
I did enough, so that when he -- I -- I assumed the Department of Agriculture had sent him to me, either that or -- or the Georgia Department of Agriculture. And he needed to go back and report that I did try to help him.
So, I took him to a white lawyer that we -- that had attended some of the training that we had provided, because Chapter 12 bankruptcy had just been enacted for the family farmer. So, I figured, if I take him to one of them, that his own kind would take care of him.
That's when it was revealed to me that it's about poor vs. 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, because I took him to one of his own.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: So, full disclosure here, yesterday, this video was brought to our attention on "RICK'S LIST". It was about 10:30 in the morning, I believe, when one of our supervisors said, take a look at this.
At the time, we were as shocked by some of those comments as many of you were when you heard them. And then we had to go through a decision-making process as to, well, what do we do with this?
We saw that some outlets, some news outlets, started to run with the story without hearing the end of the speech or at least talking to Mrs. Sherrod to get her perspective on this. We saw organizations quickly then distanced themselves from her, like the federal government and the NAACP and others.
Mrs. Sherrod then went on to resign from her post, under pressure, she would later tell us. We, by the way, chose not to do the story yesterday, even though we had the story, reason being we thought it was important to try and contact her first, double-down on sources, and try and get a complete perspective for the sake of context.
But, with or without CNN, the story carried on last night. The NAACP released a statement where they pretty much threw her under the bus. The statement read -- and I quote -- "Racism is about the abuse of power. Sherrod had in her position at the USDA. According to her remarks, she mistreated a white farmer in need of assistance because of his race. We are appalled by her actions."
Again, that's the NAACP. She was speaking to them, right?
Then, this morning, CNN's Tony Harris was able to talk to Mrs. Sherrod to finally get her perspective on this. She talked about being forced out of her position.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERROD: Why am I out? They asked me to resign. And, in fact, they harassed me as I was driving back to the state office from West Point, Georgia, yesterday. I had at least three calls telling me the White House wanted me to resign.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: So the pressure came from the White House?
SHERROD: And the last one asked me to pull over to the side of the road and do it.
HARRIS: Are you willing to name names?
SHERROD: And that's exactly what I did.
HARRIS: Are you willing to name names?
HARRIS: Are you willing to name names?
SHERROD: Oh, I can tell you, that was Cheryl Cook, the deputy undersecretary. She called me and said -- because she called me, and I said, "Cheryl, I have got a three and a half hour ride to get into Athens." She called me a second time, "Where are you now?" I said, "I'm just going through Atlanta."
She called me again and I said, "I'm at least 45 minutes to an hour from Athens." She said, "Well, Shirley, they want you to pull over to the side of the road and do it because you're going to be on 'Glenn Beck' tonight."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: Mrs. Sherrod talked about her disappointment with the NAACP for not talking to her or getting her perspective and allowing her to put the story in context, she says, before firing off the e- mail that I just read you.
Here. Take a listen to what she said about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERROD: The NAACP has not tried to contact me one time, and they are the reason why this happened. They got into a fight with the Tea Party, and all of this came out as a result of that.
HARRIS: Your reaction...
SHERROD: I would have appreciated -- when you look at my history of civil rights, I would have appreciated having the NAACP at least contact me, and Roland Martin, too, contact me to try to get the truth about what happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: We are going to investigate this story fully. We have contacted all the players that are involved. We will ask the question, did the government jump the gun in accepting her resignation? We will talk about the NAACP's role in this, including an update on their position.
And we will talk to Roland Martin, someone Mrs. Sherrod mentioned by name as being disappointed in.
But, first, we have heard from Shirley Sherrod. We haven't heard much about Shirley Sherrod. Our Brooke Baldwin has uncovered some impressive and intriguing facts about her life that could make you look at this case in a different way.
This morning, Brooke and I talked. I asked her if she would be kind enough to take a look at the past and see what she could find. As good a reporter as she is, I was stunned when I saw what Brooke had to report.
SANCHEZ: And you're going to be getting this information shortly as well.
I'm glad you're here.
SANCHEZ: We got two minutes, and then we will bring you this next side of the story.
This is a special report, a special edition of "RICK'S LIST". We will be right back.
SANCHEZ: Well, Brooke and I have been busy today working different parts of this story today that I have barely had a chance to talk to you.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I know. Hello.
SANCHEZ: Brooke Baldwin joins us.
SANCHEZ: She joins us now. But here's what's interesting.
SANCHEZ: Here's this woman, Shirley Sherrod, who finds herself right in the middle of the controversy that everyone all over the country is talking about.
I mean, if you stop and froze time, she's as famous as anybody is. And I was wondering this morning, who is this woman?
SANCHEZ: Where does she come from? What's her story? And I was -- and I asked you to dig down on this and see what you find out. And I have to tell you, just from the highlights that you have shared with me, I am all ears and ready to go.
BALDWIN: Look, every story has many layers, right? That's the fun part of our job. And you see Shirley Sherrod in one light, given this video.
But I just wanted to stop and ask myself, who is this woman, and what do we know of her past, and how can we put this whole story in context? So, that's what I'm kind of about to do.
Let me set it up for you. And then I was able to get someone very special out of Selma, Alabama, to join us on the line, on the phone. I'm going to get to her in just a moment.
But, first, before she was appointed her post by the ag secretary, she was a farmer in Georgia. And basically out of the civil rights movement -- we're looking late '60s -- she and her husband, Charles, and 10 other black families, they founded this massive farm. In fact, it has been known as the largest tract of black-owned land in the whole country.
It was called New Communities. We're told primo property, 6,000 acres. And the goal, as was explained to me, was to focus on economic development communities to specifically help black communities, help these black farmers, because you know, coming out of the civil rights movement, look, there was big-time discrimination, including from the federal government, which was later proven with this historic case, which brings me to my point.
Sherrod and this farm had gotten this planning grant. And they were told, you know, yes, we're going to give you some funding to make this thing work. Well, the thing was, the USDA, the federal government, refused to help these farmers, refused to provide loans.
So, what happened? They went bankrupt. And, three years later, they sued the federal government, and they finally won.
So, the woman who was intimately involved, intimately familiar with this racial discrimination case, is Rose Sanders, who is good enough to join me on the phone. I found her in Selma, Alabama. She took on this case pro bono.
And, Rose, I know you're with us. Good to talk to you on the show.
And I know it took you 10 years -- not paid a dime -- 10 years fighting this thing. Three months ago, these farmers, including Sherrod, win this $13 million settlement. So, given that, given what we're talking about, USDA, racial discrimination, and then on the flip side, with this no-tolerance policy, and Sherrod is out, what do you make of all of this?
ROSE SANDERS, ATTORNEY: Well, I just first -- thank you for having me. I just wish the government had had that no-tolerance policy with black farmers and poor white and Hispanic farmers for the past 30 years.
On the contrary, the policy, official policy of the USDA, the government where we are citizens, was basically to put poor whites, but basically black farmers, out of business.
What is ironical to me is that, while they are forcing her to resign from something that she allegedly said in 1985, that was the year they lost their farm. That was the year they lost the 6,000 acres. And the white males responsible for this gross discrimination were not suspended, were not punished, did not receive any letter or any command to resign.
That is a major concern. There is a double standard of justice. Mrs. Sherrod has given her life, her and her husband, to the civil rights movement. Her father was killed by the Klan.
BALDWIN: You brought -- that's what I wanted to ask you about. You were the person -- you broke the news to me on the phone. I mean, that happened -- we actually asked her today. It happened in 1965. What more do you know about that and Shirley Sherrod the person?
SANDERS: Shirley has dedicated her life and her husband to helping farmers, black and white.
If you read the full story, she was quoting her metamorphosis, her change. See, when you've been a victim...
SANCHEZ: Well, hold on. Hold on just a moment. I want you to go back, because you -- you kind of piqued our curiosity there when you mentioned that her father was killed by the Klan. It's not the kind of thing we tread over lightly.
Did that happen? What were the circumstances of it? What do you know about it? And what effect do you think it had on her?
SANDERS: I think it had a tremendous impact on her, because not only was he killed, but there was no justice. No one was tried for the crime to this day. Nothing has been done to bring about justice for this family.
This lawsuit was just one small way to bring about justice after 30 years of massive discrimination.
BALDWIN: The New Communities farm.
SANCHEZ: But wait. Wait. If -- if someone had killed my father, I would probably have to deal with not carrying anger in my heart every day.
You know her. When she said these things that people are saying was an example of institutional racism, did she say that based on the fact that a part of her still resents the fact that her father was killed by a racist?
SANDERS: Of course. Any human being would resent the fact that her father was killed.
But the good thing about Shirley Sherrod, she was a founder of Kingian nonviolence. Kingian nonviolence teaches you to attack the problem and not the person. So, therefore, Sherrods founded this farm with the help of white people who were sympathetic to the gross discrimination -- and I would use the word terror -- that black people in the South have suffered and continue to suffer.
SANCHEZ: Well, counselor, I want to hold you there, because we have got another part of this story now that is coming in. And I really want to thank you for taking time to share this information with us.
BALDWIN: Thank you, Rose Sanders, yes.
SANCHEZ: Good -- good...
BALDWIN: Just a different piece of the pie, right?
SANCHEZ: Good reporting, the fact that you were able to find out and confirm that her father was killed by the KKK...
BALDWIN: And that she...
SANCHEZ: ... and that she had received a settlement...
BALDWIN: Thirteen million dollars...
SANCHEZ: Thirteen million dollars.
BALDWIN: ... from the federal government just three months ago. This thing went on for years.
SANCHEZ: It's hard to tell the story without taking those facts into account, as you -- as you study the story in its totality.
SANCHEZ: We're about to hear now from Roger and Eloise Spooner. Who are Roger and Eloise Spooner? Do you remember when you heard the speech just moments ago that Shirley Sherrod gave, and she said a white farmer? That's him. You're looking at him right there on the left. That's Roger. That's his wife, Eloise. And they're about to go on CNN and tell their story.
We expect to talk to them for as long as it takes. And we thank them for being with us.
Let's take a quick break and we will be right back. You're watching "RICK'S LIST".
SANCHEZ: We are dedicating the hour to this story that people all over the country are talking about. And, once again, we, as a nation, find ourselves in the grips of a controversy or conversation about race.
And I told you moments ago that we have two people who are going to be joining us now live and for the very first time.
This is Roger and Eloise Spooner. Roger is the former that Shirley Sherrod was referring to in her speech when she said "the white farmer."
Now, I have also just been told that Shirley Sherrod has just called in, and she's able to join us as well.
Mrs. Sherrod, are you there now?
SHERROD: Yes, I am.
SANCHEZ: Fantastic. I'm so glad that you're with us.
I am still stuck on one part of this story that I want you to explain to our viewers. When you were referring to Roger Spooner, why did you say in your speech that you did not do everything that you could have done for him, after mentioning that he had acted superior and that he was a white farmer?
SHERROD: You know...
SANCHEZ: Go ahead.
SHERROD: ... I had never been asked to help a white farmer before. I really didn't know. I had never worked on white farm loss issues.
But I had worked on black farm loss issues. And I knew what I would have done with black farm loss issues. But I really didn't know what I needed -- I had never had the experience of seeing a white person being treated in a lot of ways like a black farmer.
SANCHEZ: But it sounded -- when you said that line in the speech alone -- look, and all I'm going to do here is, I'm going to take that line all by itself and separate everything else that we have talked about since, just that one line where you admit you could have done more for him, but didn't. That...
SANCHEZ: That in...
SANCHEZ: Go ahead.
SHERROD: I didn't -- you know, I -- if I had known how to go out and rally some white farmers to support him, I didn't know that I would have been able to get black farmers to support a white farmer losing his land.
SANCHEZ: Well, but before we go on to the context here, just staying with the -- the -- the words themselves, if we listen to the entire speech, not just parts of it, but if we listen to the totality of the speech, would we have gotten a clearer understanding that you weren't sounding racist?
SHERROD: Yes, you would have.
SHERROD: You would have seen what great lengths I went to, to try to help save his farm, because I talk about it.
SANCHEZ: So -- so...
SHERROD: I talk about how the first lawyer didn't do anything, and how I had to frantically look for a lawyer to file a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, because -- because what had been done to him by the county supervisor made it where he couldn't file a Chapter 12. I had to look for someone at the last minute who could file that and stop the sale at the courthouse steps. And we did that.
SANCHEZ: It -- it sounds like you did. But just for the record, before we leave this, because I want to make sure I have you on the record here, given what you're saying, that, in fact, if we listen to the -- the entire speech, we would get the context that you are not a racist and were not using institutional racism, then how do you explain the fact that the only part of the speech we received or was broadcast yesterday, not by CNN, but by others, was, in fact, that part? What do you...
SHERROD: You know, I can't vouch for how FOX and the Tea Party wanted to -- to present that. I don't know.
You know, since I'm not a racist, I can't understand what racists would be looking for, you know? And if that's what racists were looking for, they knew it, because they are obviously racists.
SANCHEZ: So, you're saying the people who edited that tape and presented it in the way that they did were looking to make a point, and you're saying that they probably had racist tendencies?
SHERROD: That's right. That's exactly what I'm saying.
SANCHEZ: Roger and Eloise Spooner are joining us now.
You have somehow found yourselves in the midst of this controversy as well. We thank you for being with us.
What can you tell us -- what can you tell us about Shirley Sherrod, a woman who has been described by many around the country today as using institutional racism against you, sir, against you, Roger Spooner? What do you say?
ROGER SPOONER, FARMER: I would say they don't know what they're talking about.
She -- I will tell you what. I never was treated no better, no nicer and looked after than Shirley. She done -- she done a magnificent job.
R. SPOONER: I just...
SANCHEZ: Eloise, what...
R. SPOONER: I don't have words -- I don't have words to explain it.
SANCHEZ: Eloise, maybe you can help him put words on this, because we have heard -- I have heard you today describe what she did for a period of, I think, over two years? Is that correct? What did she do?
ELOISE SPOONER, WIFE OF FARMER: Well, she put us in touch with the lawyer that knew what to do, and he helped us save our farm.
R. SPOONER: She -- she went with us. She went with us in our car. She asked us, did we want her to go? And we -- we...
R. SPOONER: we definitely wanted her to go.
And I don't know what brought up the racist mess. It's -- it's -- I don't -- I don't -- they just want to stir up some trouble, it sounds to me, now, if you want to know my opinion. There wasn't no racist nowhere about. Shirley -- Shirley -- we were -- we were blindfolded as far as that goes. We didn't...
E. SPOONER: We were really shocked when we heard about it.
R. SPOONER: We were shocked, yes. We didn't believe it, just couldn't believe it. SANCHEZ: Did she go beyond, you think, her call in assisting you, or did she just do what any government bureaucrat would do?
R. SPOONER: She -- she done -- done everything she can do, I actually believe. She knew where to send for us to go and everything.
R. SPOONER: And we went one place, and he didn't do us any good. He was a colored man, now. And that -- that shows you that there wasn't no racism in there.
Then we -- then we went to her. And she wanted to know if we would go as far as Americus. See, we live 100 miles south of Americus. And told her, yes, we -- we were -- we were going to lose our farm if something couldn't be done. And she -- she jumped in there, and she got everything lined up. And we went up there. And she done her level best.
SANCHEZ: Which part do you -- which -- what...
R. SPOONER: She sure did.
SANCHEZ: What part do you say she played in you not losing your farm?
R. SPOONER: Getting in contact with different people. And she sent us to two different people.
No, was it -- was it two different people?
E. SPOONER: Mm-hmm.
SANCHEZ: Well, let me ask you. Let me -- let me rephrase the question.
SANCHEZ: Maybe I will be a little more direct this time, guys, Roger and Eloise.
SANCHEZ: Would you -- had it not been for her assistance, would you have lost your farm, do you believe?
R. SPOONER: I believe so.
E. SPOONER: I think so.
R. SPOONER: I believe absolutely. I mean, in fact, I had two brothers that did lose their farm, and they had 3,000 or 4,000 acres. And we -- we stuck with it. And -- and she stuck with us. And Mr. Ben Easterlin (ph) was our lawyer in Americus. And he -- he was -- he was right there for us and led us through a bankruptcy and everything. And we got everything re -- as they were saying, rewired, and come out, and we still got the farm.
SANCHEZ: So, what -- well, let me ask you again a very direct question, if you don't mind.
In all your time knowing Shirley Sherrod, has there ever been anything about her, either through her attitude, her words, her opinions or her behaviors that would lead you to believe that she is in any way a racist?
E. SPOONER: No.
R. SPOONER: No way in the world. No way. No way.
I don't even want to talk about it. It don't make sense. She was just as nice to us as -- she didn't -- there wasn't no racism attitude at all in it. Heck no.
SANCHEZ: So, Eloise, what do you make of the fact that around the country this story has exploded in such a way, and that there are people around the United States today who have described her as a racist? What do you make of that?
R. SPOONER: They don't know what they're talking about. Let me say, they don't know what they're talking about, if you want to know my opinion.
Now, Eloise, tell them what you think.
E. SPOONER: She always treated us really good. And she was nice-mannered, thoughtful, friendly. A good person.
R. SPOONER: And when we saw this, this morning, and heard about this morning, we were shocked. I mean, we were really shocked. We couldn't believe it.
SANCHEZ: We want to --
E. SPOONER: We said, she helped us, so we're helping her.
SANCHEZ: Well, and we appreciate you all going on our newscast and telling your side of the story.
We have just learned from the White House, by the way, that they are denying -- do we still have Shirley?
Shirley, are you still there?
SANCHEZ: The White House is now denying that they played any part in this. Yet, I heard your conversation with my colleague Tony Harris this morning, and you did seem to suggest that, in fact, the White House was involved.
SHERROD: That's what I was told. I was told the White House said I had to resign.
SANCHEZ: All right. Let me just look at some notes here.
Suzanne Malveaux, one of our correspondents, is reporting this from the White House. The White House " -- did not pressure her or the USDA over the resignation. It was the secretary's decision, as he has said."
SHERROD: That's not what they told me. That's not what Cheryl Cook conveyed to me. Each time she said it, she said the White House.
SANCHEZ: Are you still there?
SHERROD: I'm still here.
SANCHEZ: Did I lose -- no.
SHERROD: I'm still here. I'm still here.
SANCHEZ: OK. Sorry about that.
Shirley, hold on just a moment. I understand we just got some sound with your boss, the Secretary of Agriculture. That would be Tom Vilsack.
We just now concluded an interview with him. I think we're ready to turn some sound around on this.
Let's do it. Rog, if you've got it, go ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM VILSACK, SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE: This is obviously a very difficult circumstance for all concerned. But when you're the state rural development director, your principal job is to try to develop job growth in the state of Georgia. And unfortunately, the statements and the context of the statements created a circumstance where in the future, if people were not satisfied with the decisions that the rural development director made, they could attribute the decision to a wide variety of reasons that weren't necessarily related to the job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: Did you hear what he said there, Shirley? That's part of it.
SHERROD: What did he say?
SANCHEZ: Well, he went back to the comment that you made, and he referred specifically to the context of the comment in the way it was -- he seemed to be indicating the way it was broadcast. So he says that -- do we have some more?
All right. Let's go ahead and listen to some more of this.
Can you hear it, Shirley?
SHERROD: Yes, I can hear it.
SANCHEZ: All right. Let's play some more of this. It's coming in, ,in parts. So, as we get it, we'll share it with you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VILSACK: When I saw the statements and the context of the statements, I determined that it would make it difficult for her to do her job as the rural development director, and it would potentially compromise our capacity to close the chapter on civil rights cases. I didn't want anything to jeopardize her job in terms of getting the job done and getting people to work in Georgia, and I certainly didn't want us to have a controversy making it more difficult to turn the page.
So I made this decision. It's my decision. Nobody from the White House contacted me about this at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: All right. Shirley, did you hear that? And what you're reaction?
SHERROD: I heard that, but that's not what I was told. That's not what I was told.
SANCHEZ: What do you make of the fact that he says that you would compromise the department?
SHERROD: You know, that's so strange, because at rural development, you don't even work directly with farmers.
SANCHEZ: What about the fact that he said it would have been difficult for you to do your job after --
SHERROD: You know, it was -- it would be great to talk to some of the people in the cities that I touched while I was there. They know me and know that that's not the case.
All of this stuff is coming from people in other areas. It's not coming from people here in the state of Georgia that I know of. You know? And people know that I'm not a racist.
SANCHEZ: What did Ms. Cook tell you? Once again, share with our viewers -- the first time you heard of this, you had a conversation with a Ms. Cook. Tell our viewers who she is and what she said to you yesterday.
SHERROD: She's the Deputy Undersecretary for rural development. And she initially put me on administrative leave. You know?
She told me to go home. And that's why I told the staff -- I was there in a leadership staff meeting. I told them what was going on and told them I had to leave.
And since I was in one of the government-issued cars, I told them I was driving to Athens with the car, and I would pick up my car and go home. I was doing exactly what she told me to do. And then on the way, I received three different calls about resigning.
SANCHEZ: Did she tell you that the White House wanted you out --
SANCHEZ: -- because a right-wing commentator was about to do a story about you?
SHERROD: The last time when I asked her, when she told me, I said, "Cheryl, what happened?" She said, "Well, when Glenn Beck said you would be on his show tonight, that did it."
SANCHEZ: So the White House, she says, was responding to that threat?
SANCHEZ: Do you at this point, Shirley -- do you at this point feel that if they had given you a chance to explain your story and give it proper context, that they would have not made the decision that they made?
SHERROD: You know, I don't know what decision they would have made, but at least they would have made the decision knowing the truth. They made the decision not knowing and didn't care to know. And they can say all they want that it would have compromised any decision.
They better deal with some of those that are being made that really compromised the decisions, because everything I did while I was there was all about fairness. That's the one thing I stressed with the staff. I said to them over and over, "If I don't do anything else while I'm here, I want to make sure people know the programs of this agency and know that they have equal access."
I said that day in and day out.
SANCHEZ: Well, let me give you an opportunity to respond as perhaps you seem to suggest you would have liked to. If I were Secretary Tom Vilsack and I had called you last night, and I said, "Shirley, why in the world in that speech did you use those words where you seemed to be suggesting that you would not do as much for this white farmer as you could have? Why did you say that, Shirley?"
Now, Tom Vilsack maybe didn't ask you that, but if he would have, what would you have said?
SHERROD: I would have taken the time to explain why I said it the way I did. And then I would have explained what I did.
My actions, as the Spooners have told you, would have spoken volumes for what I did. You know, I can't think of any farmer, black or white, that I refused to help. I can't think of one that I didn't help who came to me for help.
SANCHEZ: Look, I know that life is often difficult to reexamine, and we all do things and say things. So let me ask you this question. Given an opportunity to do this speech again, would you say it differently?
SHERROD: I know now that there are racist people out there who would try to take it to make it mean something else. So, I would look at a different way of trying to say the same thing. You know?
I talked about a time in my life when I realized -- you know, I don't know where you grew up, but I grew up in the South. And I grew up in racism and had to fight it all of my life. And that's why I fight so much against it. And that's why I know that racism is not something that's a part of me.
SANCHEZ: Let me ask you this question, because I raised this a while ago when Brooke Baldwin was here. And we were just wondering. There may be some people out there who would say we just learned that your father was killed, murdered by the KKK?
SHERROD: Murdered. No, by a white farmer in the county that I grew up in and the county where we live.
SANCHEZ: Was that a racist murder? Would you classify it as such?
SHERROD: Yes. And that it happened, and there were witnesses. And the grand jury refused to indict him.
SANCHEZ: Is that -- how have you been able to do with that throughout your life?
SHERROD: You know, what I did --
SANCHEZ: Go ahead.
SHERROD: What I had to do was turn that into a positive. And I did it by devoting my life to working for change.
I made a commitment on the night my father died that I would not leave the South, and I would stay here and work to make a difference. That's what the last 45 years have been like.
SANCHEZ: What a story.
Shirley, can you hang on for just a moment? We just got to -- we're going to take a quick break, and then we're going to come back and continue this special report.
We're going to keep Shirley. We're going to be joined by some other guests and more reaction to this.
We would like to thank Eloise and Roger Spooner now for joining us and sharing their perspective with us on this story as well.
You're watching a special edition of "RICK'S LIST", and this is a part of our "National Conversation". And we're going to be right back.
SANCHEZ: Well, once again, we've had an opportunity to shed some light on the story that people throughout the country are talking about.
This is your "National Conversation". I'm Rick Sanchez.
And Shirley Sherrod has been doing everything she can possibly do to get her voice heard, to tell her side of the story. And once again, she joins us.
Shirley, where do you go with this now that -- what do you plan to do after losing your job and becoming such a focal point in this story?
SHERROD: I don't know. I haven't had a chance to give it any thought at this point.
You know, I've always worked to help others since the age of 17. Somehow I will continue to do that. I won't ever stop helping people.
One thing I've tried to do throughout my life is have as much information as I can so that whatever the situation is, I can offer some help to someone. I will continue to do it.
SANCHEZ: One final question that I think I can't help but ask. Are you angry? Are you bitter? Do you feel you've been completely misrepresented? And if so, what does that make you -- how would you describe what you're feeling?
SHERROD: You know, I'm trying not to be bitter. I'm trying not to be too angry.
SHERROD: Because what will it get me? I just want to make sure that people know that what's been put out there about me is not me.
You know, I want them to know what I've done through the years to help others. That's all my life has been about. That's all it's been about.
SANCHEZ: There's one more thing that I'm -- I heard you this morning commenting on Roland Martin. And I think it would behoove us for Roland to have a chance to address you, because I was just told in my ear that Roland is standing by. He's on the air with us.
Roland, are you there?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. SANCHEZ: Shirley seemed to suggest this morning that you made some comments without getting the full context of what she has said.
Would you like to address Shirley as to what your response is? I'm sure you've heard her comments, right?
MARTIN: Yes. Well, first of all, based upon your statement, did we have the full speech? No.
The point that I made was is when you're talking about -- when you're making a political decision -- what Secretary Vilsack did was make a political decision as it relates to someone. And again, before he even made the comment I understand exactly what was going to come down, and that is being in a position of authority moving forward based upon perception.
The second point that I made is -- and this is a point that I made regardless of whether you're talking about someone African- American, white, or whatever. And that is our actions based upon what we think in terms of being able to assist someone and help someone when we're in that particular position.
As an African-American who has advocated even right now for Congress to get off their butts and pay this billion dollars to black farmers they've been holding up for quite some time, that I simply cannot sit here and ignore when, even if our own thoughts and feelings say, well, I didn't necessarily do enough to help someone because they are a white farmer, w wouldn't want somebody white saying I didn't do enough to help a black farmer. That was the point I made.
SHERROD: Roland, when that statement was made, it was 24 years ago. I was not working for the government.
MARTIN: Well, I understand.
SHERROD: And I used that story to try to help people to see that we need to get beyond some of the mess we've been in to move forward.
SHERROD: I didn't -- and you are totally misrepresenting -- you didn't take the time to see what I said either. You didn't care either.
SHERROD: You didn't care.
MARTIN: No, no, no. Again --
SHERROD: No, you didn't care.
MARTIN: -- the position that I stated, again -- and I was very clear on that. And it is no different whether it was 24 years ago for me -- allow me to finish.
SHERROD: I'm not saying that because I'm a black person. I want you to understand that I have never leaned on my blackness.
MARTIN: The point I'm making is whether something is 24 years ago, whether it is something today, in terms of when people are making decisions against someone else, saying I didn't do enough or I have preconceived notions, that to me was the issue that I spoke to. And for me --
SANCHEZ: But Roland --
MARTIN: And you know what, Shirley?
SHERROD: You go back 24 years. Where were you 24 years ago and what were you doing 24 years ago?
MARTIN: And you know what, Shirley? And I can tell you in 1989 --
SHERROD: And where did you grow up?
MARTIN: One second. One second.
I can tell you, in 1989, when I was I denied an opportunity for a job because a white news director made it perfectly clear that he was not going to hire another African-American, I understand in terms of being in that position on the other side. That's not 24 years ago. That's 1989.
When I'm sitting here clearly in a newsroom, the best candidate, clearly by all the folks there, and this news director made it clear, I'm not going to hire a black man because of something that happened 10 years ago, the point I'm making there is --
SANCHEZ: She's saying --
MARTIN: So, here -- so don't sit here --
SANCHEZ: Well, hold on, both of you.
SHERROD: It's not the same thing.
SANCHEZ: Roland -- Roland, what she's saying is --
MARTIN: Look, I'm not saying it's the same.
SANCHEZ: Well, hold on just a moment. I think, Roland, what she's saying is, and what she's been trying to get out throughout this show and earlier on, is that if people had given her a chance to hear her out in full, if they heard the totality of her speech and not just that one part, they would have recognized what she was trying to do was tell a story within a story to show that racism is bad. But she says everyone jumps just on that one piece of sound and judged her on it.
Do you feel like you should have heard more or reached out to her to get her perspective before you said what you did?
MARTIN: Well, I'll tell you, if I had heard it, absolutely. But I will still say, Rick, whether or not I hear the whole thing or not, what I want people to do, whether they are somebody who was born in the '40s, the '50s, the '60s or whether today, is not make judgments, not make a decision as to how I'm going to help somebody more or less based upon those preconceived notions.
SHERROD: Hey, I don't know what world you were living in, in the '80s.
MARTIN: One second.
SANCHEZ: All right. Roland, finish up and we'll give her a chance.
SHERROD: I cannot listen to more of what he is saying because he is dead wrong.
SANCHEZ: All right.
SHERROD: I don't know where he grew up in, but he is dead wrong.
SANCHEZ: All right. Shirley, let's be as respectful as we can.
And I'll ask you to go ahead. You have an opportunity now to explain why it is that you disagree with Roland.
Roland, let's give her a listen here.
MARTIN: And the point I'm making --
SANCHEZ: Well, hold on, Roland. Let's give her a chance to respond.
SHERROD: You know, I don't want to get into an argument with him, because he's clearly from a different world. He doesn't have any experience with the world I've lived in. So I don't think we can agree on anything. OK?
MARTIN: And I don't.
SANCHEZ: Well, I'll tell you -- what does this say? Let's forget this conversation between you all.
And I was thinking earlier today, when I tried to explain this story earlier today to my kids, they thought I had horns in my head. They didn't quite understand that which we as a nation are still so, dare I use the words, stuck on. Why do we constantly get in these conversations about NAACP, who said what to whom, was it racist, what did the Tea Party say, what did the Tea Party do? And I'll say this once again. When I talk to my teenage sons and my daughter, they don't understand what we're talking about.
Do we continue to bring back parts of the past to get ourselves -- well, I'll just leave the question there and I'll let you guys respond.
MARTIN: Well, no, Rick. I'll tell you, Rick, we don't necessarily do that, because if you go to the EEOC right now, you will see the kind of complaints that are being filed today. If you listen to John Boyd of the National Black Farmers Association talking about what they're still facing today, when you look at (INAUDIBLE) opportunities, you hear from black fishermen and Vietnamese fishermen down on the Gulf Coast right now.
These are not conversations from 30 years ago. These are things that are happening today.
So, have we changed? Have we evolved? There's no doubt we have actually done that. But we also cannot deny what is happening right now.
Opportunities are being denied to people of color even today. Rules being changed based upon, well, do this based on what happens here. This is the reality for some people in this world.
SANCHEZ: Shirley, how much would you say that you are a victim of this conversation, this debate that sprung out late last week between the NAACP and the Tea Party?
SHERROD: It had everything to do with it. This would never -- that speech would never have even come to light if it had not been for the debate that the NAACP was to lock in with the Tea Party.
And I think made that speech -- I made that same speech to a group of students at Albany State College on October 15th. They played it over and over in Albany, because I make the point to the young people that we've got to move beyond it.
We've got to try to strive to be the best we can be. And then we have got to reach back and help somebody else.
I talked to them about how our parents tried to reach back. That's how we made it. They were reaching back and helping.
My message is an upbeat message trying to get people to work together to make life better for all of us.
SANCHEZ: Roland, do you believe that she's a victim?
MARTIN: So, Rick, is the question for us then as it relates to Andrew Breitbart, as it relates to big government in terms of what is the motive, as it relates to the standards -- SANCHEZ: Well, you just mentioned the name. And I think the least we can do -- hold on. You just mentioned a gentleman named Andrew Breitbart.
Andrew Breitbart is the conservative Web site media producer who posted this story and got it out there. And Shirley is accusing Andrew Breitbart of very carefully editing her speech to make it try and sound like something that she isn't.
That's what Shirley is saying.
MARTIN: So, but, Rick, are --
SHERROD: And that's exactly what happened.
MARTIN: -- we going to be as vigorous in questioning him and those around him for their motives as we are as it relates to Shirley or to me or to anyone else? Because, again, the story has multiple layers there, and that also speaks to it.
SANCHEZ: Hold that thought. We're going to take a quick break and then we're going to continue about the discussion about whether -- and this is important -- whether someone, Andrew Breitbart in this case, it seems to be the accusation, was actually trying to instigate this by carefully editing the video as such. That's Shirley's accusation.
More on that when we come back.
This is "RICK'S LIST". We're with Shirley Sherrod and Roland Martin, and this is a special report.
SANCHEZ: Welcome back.
We have Shirley Sherrod with us. And we have Roland Martin, my colleague, with us as well.
You know, this is a difficult conversation for many Americans. And people will be having it and having these types of arguments.
But you mentioned something a little while ago. And I guess this is an important part of the story.
You named this gentleman named Breitbart who owns -- who has a blog and is a conservative blogger who raised this issue and posted this story. And you were going to make some comments about him, Roland, and I interrupted you.
I want to give you a chance.
MARTIN: Well, yes. I made the point that --
SANCHEZ: And we have reached out to him, by the way. We reached out to him. I just wanted to put that on the record as well. MARTIN: I made the point that Shirley is correct when she says it was a question of the NAACP and the Tea Party, which does not mean the NAACP was wrong in going after those racist elements within the Tea Party.
So, what you have here is you have Andrew Breitbart, big government, and then the whole system, if you will, surrounding him, that they are involved in, that wants to denigrate and demonize the NAACP for calling folks out. And so the question then becomes, as it relates to how we break down this story, do we have a situation of where we only say what did the White House do, what did Shirley do, what did Roland say, but what did the folks who posted the video say? And so I believe our response is also to question that as well.
At the same time, in talking with John Boyd with the National Black Farmers, the people who are involved in the massive racism there, he said many of those folks still have their jobs in the Department of Agriculture. So, there are multiple questions that we can certainly raise that deserve answers.
SANCHEZ: Shirley --
SHERROD: And Roland, you should show that I work on the black farm issue even before John Boyd was involved in it. That's how far back I go.
You know, I've been dealing with racist issues all of my life. But I have worked hard to make sure that wasn't a part of me. And I spent my life trying to treat people like I want to be treated.
SHERROD: And if each of us did that, we would do away with a lot of what's going on.
SANCHEZ: Well, maybe, interestingly enough, as we get ready to close this segment -- and I want to thank both of you -- you know, we see this in both sides oftentimes. We see people take a statement or a comment, and suddenly it becomes a very big story.
What we've tried to do during this hour of this show is provide the context so you at home can make your own decision as to who is right and who is possibly wrong. And I'm glad that we've had a chance to talk to many of the players involved and bring them so that you can hear them out.
There's one player we mentioned moments ago. That's Andrew Breitbart. I've just been told he will be on "JOHN KING USA" tonight.
Right now, though, my thanks to everybody who has been a part of this special report.
I'm Rick Sanchez.
Here now, "THE SITUATION ROOM" and Wolf Blitzer.