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January/ February 2013 A Dedicated Life

Shirley Sherrod’s ongoing battle for racial cooperation in Georgia.

By Ryan Cooper

In addition to her work on these two organizations, Sherrod also received a grant in April 2011 from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation (which has helped to fund this issue of the Washington Monthly). With that grant, she is working to help improve race relations and foster cooperation and partnership between blacks and whites in the often racially divisive region of southwest Georgia. She admits that so far it’s been an uphill battle. While things are “probably a little better” than they were in the 1960s, she says, people in southwest Georgia still “kind of know their place, and that’s the way it’s been through the years.” Institutionally, race relations have improved since the Jim Crow era, but in some ways things have gotten worse. “People can still go and sit in a restaurant, and eat. They can go and stay in a hotel somewhere. But when you look at what’s happening in the school system, they’ve almost been re-segregated again,” she said. Wilcox County High School, for example, does not have a school-supported prom, so black students and white students organize their own proms separately. Sherrod and her colleagues are working to change that.

The irony of Shirley Sherrod’s burst of fame nearly three years ago is that it had almost nothing to do with her at all. A race baiter thrust her briefly onto the national stage, where she stood accused of doing the exact opposite of what she’d spent her life doing. She has since returned to the grassroots advocacy work to which she has dedicated her life, and it’s here, it seems, she’d like to stay.

Click here to read more from our Jan/Feb 2013 cover package “Race, History, and Obama’s Second Term.”

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper