Shirley Sherrod: Racial healing and God’s amazing grace

By: Gustav Niebuhr The story of how Shirley Sherrod briefly lost a job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and … Continued

By: Gustav Niebuhr

The story of how Shirley Sherrod briefly lost a job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and almost immediately received an offer of a new one –from departmental Secretary Tom Vilsack himself–has had a remarkable staying power in the news media. A week has gone by since an administration official, furiously dialing Sherrod’s cell phone, demanded she pull her car over and resign. Very few subjects, short of wars and catastrophic oil spills, receive the amount of ink her dismissal has.

But amidst all the ruminations about and fulminations against blogger Andrew Breitbart, Fox News, Vilsack, the NAACP, President Obama, and–well, you name ’em all–a central character in the drama has gone almost unremarked. That would be Ms. Sherrod’s God, to whom she assigned the decisive role in the now globally famous speech she gave to Georgia’s NAACP last March.

By now, most Americans must know how the video excerpt of her words, posted on the Web, made Sherrod look as if she were discriminating against a white farmer by not extending him the services he, a struggling agriculturalist, deserved. And most now know the excerpt was not the full speech, but served Sherrod as a prelude to explain how she changed and came to be who she is today.

As she said to members of the Georgia NAACP back on that March day, she spoke as the daughter of a murdered black farmer, victim of a racial crime whose author was never convicted. That allowed her to talk about how, through her experiences with the financially hard-pressed white farmer in 1986, she came to believe a divine agency was at work in her life, teaching her.

“God helped me to see that it’s not just about black people–it’s about poor people. And I’ve come a long way. I knew that I couldn’t live with hate, you know.”

That’s the key statement in her speech. In traditional Christian terminology, it’s called a testimony.

In her speech, Sherrod singled out young people, asking them to hear her story of moral transformation. The daughter of a murdered man, she credited God with goodness and showing her a way helpful to others.

In reporting on Shirley Sherrod’s case, commentators have focused on the high-pressure dysfunctions of the 24-hour news cycle, the embarrassing, knee-jerk, rush to judgment of high administration officials, and the way race as a subject continues to bedevil many Americans into saying and doing stupid things.

But not to be ignored is one woman’s recounting of how she experienced an amazing grace. That’s not a singular narrative. Americans have been telling those stories about themselves for centuries. The details vary, but the essential storyline remains the same: I was lost, now I’m found. Too bad a lot of the news media are tone deaf when it comes to recognizing the story and the tradition to which it belongs.

Gustav Niebuhr
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  • WmarkW

    “Too bad a lot of the news media are tone deaf when it comes to recognizing the story and the tradition to which it belongs.”This story got way overblown for the same reason Jena Six, Duke Lacrosse, Michael Richards, Rodney King and William Bennett on abortion and crime did. The media’s been pushing a narrative that ubiquitous racism lurks lurks everywhere and the Americans have just gotten good at hiding it. Whenever the slightest hint of it sticks its head up, they swoop in with nuclear weapons to obliterate the alleged source.The media need simpleton stories like this; because they can’t figure out how to cover complex issues like entitlement reform.

  • TexasRed972

    Thank you, Mr. Niebuhr, for your insightful article. The more I learn about Ms. Sherrod, the more I admire and respect this amazing lady who had the courage to reveal her personal weakness and, as you so aptly put it, the “amazing grace” of God that gave her the courage to face that weakness and the determination to overcome it. We need more Shirley Sherrod’s in our government!

  • sprmgc

    This is a poorly written article.

  • StephensKimberly

    Interestingly, WMARKW, the majority still finds it difficult to acknowledge a mindset and establishment that drives most every privelege and means access in this country. Often the root of the problem is a mindset of entitlement coming from the majority themselves and all efforts to keep others from inclusion. They have convinced themselves that the problem resides in recipients of efforts to balance the wrongs that permeate the culture. Wake up and acknowledge your issues and your contribution to the problem. Ask yourself, why are you opposed to someone else having something? Especially someone else that does not look like you. Unless you are Native American, this country was not your entitlement in the first place. Be nice….share….As every kindergardner comes to learn….or should have learned.

  • bigbe

    News is too important to trust it to Fox News.

  • docjoyer

    Some of the coments still blame the affair on Fox News. Truth of the matter, Fox News had nothing to do with it. The admin acted on the words of a blogger, not Fox News. Also “sprmgc” comments that this is a “poorly written article”. My goodness, the content must have gone completely over your head. Maybe you should just refrain from commenting on articles that are beyond your comprehesion.

  • pandainc

    Six posts, and only one actually responded to the issue of this lady’s beliefs and excellence of character. Missus Sherrod, you’re a fine example of a flawed and yet redeemed child of God. (And a pretty tough lady, also.)

  • jimboster

    If you actually listen to Ms. Sherrod’s entire NAACP speech and her comments about the white farmer and “his own kind” and her lambasting the Republicans as racist for opposing Obama’s health care plan, and her subsequent statements about FOX and Breitbart during her whirlwind tour of the weekday morning news shows last week, you’ll learn, the idea she experienced some kind of racial epiphany is completely ludicrous. Shirley Sherrod is an angry, bitter woman who sees the entire world through a racial prism. Now, you won’t hear this from the MSM, in fact, you’ll get a steady diet about what a wonderful, God fearing, loving woman she is. But I’ll tell you this, you won’t see her on any more major network news programs. They realize she’s another Jeremiah Wright just waiting to explode in the President’s face. The likes of Meachem and Quinn will continue to praise her to high heaven but, with the exception of a Tavis Smiley, you won’t see interviewed on live TV again.

  • OptionJohn

    How many white farmers did Sherrod discriminate against until she realized her sins before she helped one white farmer?

  • tommariner

    Amazing Grace to describe Ms. Sherrod works for me — One of the non-stop talking heads on the Sunday talk shows implied that the “sainted Ms. Sherrod” had better get ready to take her rightful place next to MLK and Rosa Parks for eternity.Not diminishing the person, but her accomplishment was getting fired by an Administration after fifteen seconds of not investigating. I’m not sure that rises to the level of sainthood in accomplishments.All current events aside, I am still furious that Dr. King was taken from us by some demented jerk. I wonder where we would be today if we had all these years with a legitimate voice of concentrated healing.

  • junkcatchermail

    These people who self-righteously claim that anti-black racism is a non-issue in America are either lying, blind or deluded. I look and sound like a bubba, and you wouldn’t believe the things I hear from other whites who mistakenly think that I believe as they do.It’s so sad. And God’s judgment is coming!

  • robtr

    Shirley Sherrod admitted to racism in her hate filled speech. She said she didn’t help the farmer because he was white. Later after the farmer called her again, 7 days before losing his farm she finally did her job. Now the liberals think this racist woman is a saint.I’m not buying it.

  • StewartIII

    NewsBusters| Syracuse Journalism Prof: Sherrod’s NAACP Was Testimony of God’s ‘Amazing Grace’

  • MEC40

    When she told her story before a group of NAACP members and officials, who laughed and quasi-cheered her admitted racist acts, I do not hear her reprimanding the group for laughing about her past racism.

  • gimpi

    I think Mr. Niebuhr got to one of the points of of this whole affair. Ms. Sherrod is open about how her past, including the murder of her father by a white farmer over the contested ownership of some cattle and a series of all-white grand juries refusing to bring him to trial, affected her judgment. We are often prisoners of our pasts. However, showing some true wisdom, she transcended her past tragedies, and learned to see beyond the surface of a person, and to stop holding people accountable for the sins of someone who happened to look like them. Well done, Ms Sherrod. I would venture to suggest that some folks on this blog could stand to learn the same lesson. Probably most of us.Oh, and Mec40, I would suggest going and viewing the actual whole vid, not the edited version. A good part of what people are calling laughter and applause appear to be static and sound artifacts. This kind of thing is common in old, analog copy converted to digital. They appear to have been “enhanced” in the edited version. This particular blogger is famous for that sort of creative editing. I would also say that the whole story, starting with a murder and ending in her revelation, lends itself to better understanding. That’s what you want, right?