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Advocate for social justice in rural America receives NEA award

WASHINGTON - June 23, 2011 -

The National Education Association (NEA) will honor Shirley Sherrod at its annual Human and Civil Rights Awards dinner in Chicago, July 1, 2011. NEA will present the César Chávez Acción y Comprimiso Human and Civil Rights Award to Shirley Sherrod of Albany, GA.

“Shirley Sherrod’s life-lesson for us all is that we can overcome adversity by remaining true to our values and reaching out to help those who are less fortunate,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.

Shirley Sherrod was 17 years old when her father, a Black farmer, was murdered by a White farmer over a disagreement about livestock. An all-White Grand Jury failed to find the shooter guilty. Sherrod said she wanted to find a gun and kill that White man. Instead, like César Chávez, she channeled her anger into nonviolent action—joining the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC) in rural southwest Georgia.

In the 1960s, Sherrod and her husband, the Reverend Charles Sherrod, founded a 6,000-acre collective farm in Lee County, GA. But they encountered stiff opposition from segregationist Gov. Lester Maddox, who blocked all federal development funds for the project. Eventually, their inability to secure government loans doomed the project. Sherrod went on to work at helping minority farmers keep their land.

In 2009, Shirley Sherrod accepted a position with the United State Department of Agriculture as the Georgia State Director of Rural Development, becoming the first Black person to hold that position. But in July 2010, a right-wing blogger posted a video of Sherrod addressing a local NAACP event. The video was edited to make Sherrod sound like a racist, when in fact she was telling a story of how she had overcome her own self doubts to help a White farmer. Fox News broadcasted the doctored video, and based on the video, Shirley Sherrod was pressured to resign.

When the facts came out, the White House personally apologized to Sherrod and the Secretary of Agriculture offered her another job. She accepted the apology, but only accepted the job after almost a year of soul searching, deciding that the work of helping farmers of all races keep their land was more important than any slight she had suffered.

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Dana Dossett  (202) 822-7823,