Mark Twain warned us: Confession is good for the soul, but it’s bad for the reputation.
It’s a good thing for a certain rural Georgia peanut farmer that we didn’t have a 24/7 news cycle when he was coming up. Otherwise, Jimmy Carter’s “lust in his heart” remark would have derailed his political career.
Shirley Sherrod has just become the most famous employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Millions of Americans who have no idea who Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is know who Shirley Sherrod is.
She’s the relatively low-level USDA appointee who was forced to resign after telling a workshop at the recent NAACP Convention how she did not go all out to help a poor white farmer in rural Georgia who was threatened with the loss of his farm. That was twenty-four years ago, when she was working for another agency.
The video clip is indeed damaging. But, as the late Paul Harvey always told us, here’s the rest of the story. It seems Mrs. Sherrod overcame her initial reluctance to help the distressed farmer. She put aside feelings of bitterness, memories of humiliation and discrimination she herself had experienced as a young black woman in the rural South. And she helped the farmer and his family.
The white “victims” in this highly publicized case refused to cooperate with the story line. When Mrs. Sherrod was unceremoniously pressured by the Obama White House into resigning, the farmer’s wife said:
"We probably wouldn't have (our farm) today if it hadn't been for her leading us in the right direction. I wish she could get her job back because she was good to us, I tell you."
That was Eloise Spooner’s comment. She’s from Iron City, Georgia.
There is probably not one of us—certainly none of us in the public eye—who could not be undone by an unguarded or ill-considered remark caught on camera and YouTubed to the world.
There seems to be no complaint from anyone that Mrs. Sherrod has used her position in the Agriculture Department to deny equal treatment under law to anyone because of his or her race. That’s as it should be.
We could all take a lesson from Detroit Tigers pitcher, Armando Galarraga. He was denied a perfect game in the record books last June because of a blown call by the umpire, Jim Joyce.
Galarraga’s response on being denied this career-enhancing distinction was remarkable. He didn’t rage. He didn’t spit in the umpire’s face. He didn’t give [bleeping] interviews. He accepted the injustice and moved on.
In doing so, he gave a stirring example of courage to the nation. Novelist Ernest Hemingway described courage as “grace under pressure.” Armando Galarraga proved himself a hero. So, actually, did Jim Joyce. When confronted with his error on the videotape replay—a technology unavailable for tens of thousands of games over baseball’s century-long history—Joyce humbly acknowledged his error.
Maybe President Obama doesn’t have to invite Mrs. Sherrod, Secretary Vilsack, and the Spooners to the White House for a beer summit. After all, once is enough. But the President does have the power to make this right.
Here is an opportunity for all of us. Shirley Sherrod should be reinstated. We can all learn a lesson in humility. We can all learn something about forgiveness and grace from this story. And, after all, don’t we Americans love happy endings?