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Shirley Sherrod to speak at Black Heritage Festival luncheon in Tampa

Shirley Sherrod has good reason to hate the Obama administration.

After all, it was an Obama-appointed official who helped pressure her to quit a job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2010, after a falsely edited video made the longtime civil rights activist look like she had actively discriminated against white people in her job.

Still, despite finding herself briefly abandoned while standing at the center of an international story on race, politics and media, Sherrod said she still supports Barack Obama as a politician and remains proud of his historic status as America's first re-elected black president.

"Even during the worst part of my ordeal, I was still supporter of his. I still felt he was the best man to speak to the majority of Americans," said Sherrod, who is the featured speaker today at the Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival Leadership Luncheon in Tampa.

"With me, (the Obama administration) was being attacked by the right so much, they were running scared," she added in an interview Tuesday. "Looking back, I feel he and his administration learned a valuable lesson … that everything is not always as it seems in first light."

Those lessons came at a cost. Sherrod, an African American grandmother whose family has a history of civil rights activism, was highlighted in a video posted to conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart's website. The video featured clips of a speech at an NAACP banquet in which she seemed to admit discriminating against white people as director of rural development in Georgia for the USDA.

The next day, the NAACP released a full-length video of the speech; Sherrod was actually talking about a job 24 years earlier where she had resisted helping a white farmer, only to realize her mistake and work for years to help him save his family farm.

The Obama administration and NAACP, which had also denounced her before seeing the full video, apologized. But Sherrod turned down the offer of a new USDA job, focusing instead on ground-level, anti-prejudice activism through the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education and her book released last year, The Courage to Hope: How I resisted the Politics of Fear.

She also continues to pursue a lawsuit against the estate of Breitbart, who died in March 2012.

Sherrod, 65, decided nearly 50 years ago to stay in her native Georgia and work on racial issues, after her father was shot and killed in 1965 by a white man who avoided indictment by an all-white jury.

Now, she says she's working to help dialogue across race, encouraging local TV news stations to offer some positive coverage of mostly-black cities in Georgia and raising money to help a high school in a neighboring county hold an integrated prom.

"You can't make giant steps sometimes," Sherrod said about fighting race prejudice. "It's the little steps that lead people to talk to each other. In doing that, they see they can get along."

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Shirley Sherrod is the featured speaker at the Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival Leadership Luncheon, scheduled for 11:30 a.m. today at the University Area Community Development Center, 14013 N 22nd St., Tampa. Tickets are $10 each, $125 per table.

Shirley Sherrod to speak at Black Heritage Festival luncheon in Tampa 01/22/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 10:11pm]
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