The Courage to Hope

The Courage to Hope

How I Stood Up to the Politics of Fear

In the summer of 2010, Shirley Sherrod was catapulted into a media storm that blew apart her life and her job doing what she’d done for decades: helping poor, hardworking people live the American dream. She was a lifelong activist who served as Georgia’s first black director of rural development.

A right-wing blogger, the now late Andrew Breitbart, disseminated a video clip of a speech Sherrod had given to the Georgia NAACP, intending to make her an example of “reverse racism.” The right-wing media ramped up the outrage, and before Sherrod had a chance to defend herself, the Obama administration demanded her resignation. Then, after hearing from Sherrod herself and learning the entire truth of what she said in that speech, the administration tried to backtrack. As public officials and media professionals admitted to being duped and apologized for their rush to judgment, Sherrod found herself the subject of a teachable moment.

The Courage to Hope addresses this regret-table episode in American politics, but it also tells Sherrod’s own story of growing up on a farm in southwest Georgia during the final violent years of Jim Crow. As a child she dreamed of leaving the South, but when her father was murdered by a white neighbor who was never brought to justice, Sherrod made a vow to stay in Georgia and commit herself to the cause of truth and racial healing. With her husband, Charles, a legend in the civil rights movement, she has devoted her life to empowering poor people and rural communities—Americans who are most in need.

The incident that brought Sherrod into the spotlight does not define her life and work, but it strengthens her commitment to stand against the politics of fear and have the courage to hope.
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  • Atria Books | 
  • 256 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451651027 | 
  • August 2012
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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

“The White House Wants You Out”

Interstate 75 cuts a jagged path down the center of Georgia, a busy highway where caravans of massive trucks haul their loads through the South day and night. I had driven that highway hundreds of times, traveling to Athens, where my office was, or to Atlanta. In my role as Georgia state director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), I logged many hours of driving every week.

My practice was to spend Monday through Friday in the field and return to my home in Albany, in the southwest corner of the state, for the weekend. I... see more

About the Author

Shirley Sherrod

Shirley Sherrod lectures nationally on issues of importance to middle class families, the poor, and small communities. She promotes empowerment strategies for economically and socially disadvantaged people and runs educational projects for struggling farmers. She lives in Georgia with her husband.

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