Shirley Sherrod

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Shirley Sherrod
Shirley Sherrod Laura Flanders Show 2016.jpg
Sherrod in 2016
Shirley Miller

c. 1948 (age 74–75)
EducationFort Valley State University
Albany State University
Antioch University (M.A.), community development, 1989[1]
OccupationState Director Rural Development
SpouseCharles Sherrod
Parent(s)Grace and Hosie Miller

Shirley Sherrod (born 1948) is a former Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture. On July 19, 2010, she became a subject of controversy when parts of a speech she gave were publicized by Breitbart News, and she was forced to resign. However, upon review of the complete unedited video in context, the NAACP, White House officials, and Tom Vilsack, the United States Secretary of Agriculture, apologized for the firing and Sherrod was offered a new position.

Sherrod later sued Andrew Breitbart and co-defendant Larry O'Connor for defamation, false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In October 2015, the suit was settled out of court on confidential terms.

Early life[edit]

Sherrod (née Miller) was born in 1948 in Baker County, Georgia, to Grace and Hosie Miller.[2][3] In 1965, when she was 17 years old, her father, a deacon at the local Baptist Church, was shot dead by a white farmer, reportedly over a dispute about livestock.[3] No charges were returned against the shooter by an all-white grand jury.[3] This was a turning point in her life and led her to feel that she should stay in the South to bring about change.[3] Several months after Miller's murder, a cross was burned at night in front of the Miller family's residence with Grace Miller and her four daughters, including Shirley, and infant son, born after her husband's killing, inside.[4]

That same year, Sherrod was among the first black students to enroll in the previously all-white high school in Baker County.[2] Eleven years later, Grace Miller became the first black woman elected to a county office, one she continued to hold, as of 2010.[4]

Sherrod attended Fort Valley State College[2] and later studied sociology at Albany State University in Georgia while working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the Civil Rights Movement where she met her future husband, minister Charles Sherrod.[3][5] She went on to Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio where she earned her master's degree in community development.[3] She returned to Georgia to work with the Department of Agriculture in Georgia "to help negro farmers keep their land."[3]

New Communities land trust[edit]

In 1969, Sherrod and her husband were among the U.S. civil rights and land collective activists co-founding New Communities, a collective farm in Southwest Georgia[6][7][8] modeled on kibbutzim in Israel.[3][9] According to scholarship by land trust activists Susan Witt and Robert Swann, New Communities' founding in 1969 by individuals such as the Sherrods connected to the Albany Movement[8] served as a laboratory and model in a movement toward the development of Community Land Trusts throughout the U.S.: "The perseverance and foresight of that team in Georgia, motivated by the right of African-American farmers to farm land securely and affordably, initiated the CLT movement in this country."[10]

Located in Lee County, Georgia, the 5,700-acre (23 km2) project was one of the largest tracts of black-owned land in the U.S.[9][11] The project soon encountered difficulties in the opposition of area white farmers, who accused participants of being communists,[3] and also from segregationist Democratic Governor Lester Maddox, who prevented development funds for the project from entering the state.[9] A drought in the 1970s and inability to get government loans led to the project's ultimate demise in 1985.[3]

Class action lawsuit[edit]

After Sherrod and her husband lost their farm when they were unable to secure United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) loans,[5] they became class action plaintiffs in the civil suit Pigford v. Glickman. The Department agreed to a settlement in which compensation was paid between January 1, 1981 and December 31, 1999,[3] in what has been described as "the largest civil rights settlement in history, with nearly $1 billion being paid to more than 16,000 victims."[3]

A federal law passed in 2008 — with then-Senator Barack Obama's sponsorship — to allow up to 70,000 more claimants to qualify,[3] which included New Communities, for the communal farm in which Sherrod and her husband had partnered. In 2009, chief arbitrator Michael Lewis ruled that the USDA had discriminated against New Communities by denying a loan to the operation and extending more favorable terms to white farmers.[6] New Communities received a $12.8 million settlement that included $8.2 million in compensation for loss of farm land, $4.2 million for loss of income and $330,000 to Sherrod and her husband[12] for "mental anguish".[9][11]

Sherrod was hired by the USDA in August 2009 as the Georgia director of rural development, the first black person to hold that position.[3][6]

Resignation from Department of Agriculture[edit]

On July 19, 2010, Shirley Sherrod was forced to resign from her USDA position[13] after blogger Andrew Breitbart posted a selectively-edited video of Sherrod's address to a March 2010 NAACP event onto his website. Reacting to these video excerpts, the NAACP condemned her remarks and U.S. government officials called on her to resign. However, upon review of the complete, unedited video in full context, the NAACP, White House officials, and Tom Vilsack, the United States Secretary of Agriculture, apologized for the firing, and Sherrod was offered a new position with the USDA.[14][15]

Lawsuit against Breitbart and O'Connor and settlement[edit]

In February 2011, Sherrod filed a lawsuit against Andrew Breitbart and co-defendant Larry O'Connor in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; in her complaint, Sherrod accused Breitbart of defamation, false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress.[16] Following Breitbart's death in 2012, Breitbart's estate was substituted as a defendant.[17]

The defendants removed the case to federal court.[18] The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, who repeatedly expressed frustration with the U.S. government's delays in providing discovery.[17][19] In July 2014, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned Judge Leon's order directing Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack to give a deposition as part of pretrial discovery.[20] Sherrod was represented by the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis.[17]

In October 2015, the parties reached a settlement on undisclosed terms, issuing a joint statement saying: "The parties regret the harm that Mrs. Sherrod suffered as a result of these events. In a gesture they hope will inspire others to engage in the difficult but critically important process of bridging racial divides, the parties have agreed to resolve this lawsuit on confidential terms."[17]

Career timeline[edit]

Dates known Position Organization Comment
From 1965 Organizer Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's Southwest Georgia Project
Co-founder Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education (among other organizations) Organized childcare and pre school programs throughout Southwest Georgia and participated in voter registration drives[21]
1969–1985 Co-founding member;
store manager[citation needed]
New Communities land trust Entity went bankrupt, with most its lands sold, in 1985.[7] In 2009, New Communities members were compensated for their losses, by then having joined a class-action suit against the USDA.
Prior 2009 Georgia State Lead Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative[21]
1985–2009[22] Georgia office lead Federation of Southern Cooperatives Assisted rural farmers in retaining their land[3][5][21]
1993–1996 Fellowship awardee Kellogg National Fellowship program[21]
1999–2000 Executive Director Community Alliances of Interdependent Agriculture[22]
July 2009–July 2010[22] Georgia State Director of Rural Development[21] U.S. Department of Agriculture On August 24, 2010, Sherrod turned down an advocacy position in Washington, D.C., with the USDA, doing internal, anti-discrimination training and outreach, offering instead to consult with the Department.[23]
Late July 2010 No longer a federal employee (nor thus constrained by the Hatch Act), campaigned for local Democratic Party United States Congressman[6]


  1. ^ "Welcome Aboard: Shirley Sherrod steps up as Georgia's new RDA director" (PDF). WATERstewards. Georgia Rural Water Association. Winter–Spring 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 28, 2012. Retrieved March 1, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c Cook, Rhonda. "Shirley Sherrod shaped by father's slaying". Retrieved July 24, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Kavanagh, Jim (July 22, 2010). "Sherrod's steadfast motto: 'Let's work together'". CNN. Archived from the original on August 23, 2010. Retrieved August 9, 2010.
  4. ^ a b Sherrod, Shirley (August 17, 2010). "We Can't Yield – Not Now, Not Ever". Huffington Post.
  5. ^ a b c Thompson, Krissah (July 22, 2010). "Despite adversity, Shirley Sherrod has history of civil service". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  6. ^ a b c d Hennessey, Kathleen (August 4, 2010). "Hard feelings about handling of Shirley Sherrod have deep roots in Georgia". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 3, 2013.
  7. ^ a b Breed, Allen G. (November 25, 2001). "Bias Blamed in demise of dream: Blacks sought to build farm community in Georgia that would be independent of white community". Associated Press. Retrieved August 9, 2010.
  8. ^ a b Bachman, Megan (July 29, 2010). "Antioch alumna draws spotlight". Yellow Springs News.
  9. ^ a b c d "Shirley Sherrod named Georgia Director of Development". Rural Development Leadership Network. Archived from the original on August 5, 2010. Retrieved August 1, 2010.
  10. ^ Witt, Susan; Swann, Robert (1996). "Land: Challenge and Opportunity". In Vitak, William; Jackson, Wes (eds.). Rooted in the Land: Essays on Community and Place. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. p. 246. ISBN 0300069618. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
  11. ^ a b Bluestein, Greg (July 22, 2010). "Father's death turning point for fired AG official". Associated Press.
  12. ^ Pickert, Kate (July 23, 2010). "When Shirley Sherrod Was First Wronged by the USDA". Time magazine. Archived from the original on July 25, 2010.
  13. ^ Montopoli, Brian (July 21, 2010). "Vilsack: I Will Have to Live With Shirley Sherrod Mistake". CBS News.
  14. ^ Tumulty, Karen; O'Keefe, Ed (July 22, 2010). "Fired USDA official receives apologies from White House, Vilsack". Washington Post. Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  15. ^ the CNN Wire Staff (July 23, 2010). "Sherrod: Andrew Breitbart is 'a liar'". Retrieved July 24, 2010. {{cite news}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  16. ^ Mark Memmott, Shirley Sherrod Sues Andrew Breitbart; He Says 'Bring It On', NPR (February 14, 2011).
  17. ^ a b c d Zoe Tillman, Former USDA Official Settles Defamation Suit Against Breitbart Estate, National Law Journal (October 1, 2015).
  18. ^ Eric David, D.C. Circuit Considers Anti-SLAPP Case, Digital Media and Data Privacy Law Blog (March 21, 2013).
  19. ^ Josh Gerstein, Judge rips feds in Sherrod-Breitbart lawsuit, Politico (February 20, 2014).
  20. ^ Josh Gerstein, Court nixes Vilsack subpoena in Sherrod v. Breitbart suit, Politico (July 24, 2014).
  21. ^ a b c d e The Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative Executive Committee (2010). "SRBWI Statement in Support of Shirley Sherrod". Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative. Archived from the original on April 15, 2013. Retrieved August 9, 2010.
  22. ^ a b c Gray, Heather (September 24, 2009). "The Federation's Shirley Sherrod Now Heads USDA's Rural Development in Georgia: Sherrod is the first African American to hold this position in Georgia". Federation of Southern Cooperatives.
  23. ^ Thompson, Krissah (August 25, 2010). "Sherrod turns down offer to make fresh start at USDA". Washington Post.