Bookworm: 'The Courage to Hope'

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Some days, you get a little bit of exercise.

You hear a good story, and you pounce on it. You spin it to make it funny, bend the facts for more entertainment and jump to conclusions to make it interesting. The truth might get stretched, but when you’re running a good tale, who cares?

Someone does – especially if it’s about to ruin their life. In the new book The Courage to Hope by Shirley Sherrod (with Catherine Whitney), you’ll read about one such event.

Sherrod was born into racism. Her father owned their family farm, but the county was ruled by whites. Jim Crow laws were enforced for longer than elsewhere and federal laws and mandates were basically ignored. Sherrod’s father was killed by a white man who was never punished.

At this same time, though she didn’t know him then, Sherrod’s future husband was working hard within the civil rights movement.

When they first met, she thought Charles Sherrod was too skinny. She wasn’t very impressed with him – until she heard him speak. Weeks later, they were inseparable. Later married, Sherrod joined her husband in the movement.

Because she’d come from farmers, Sherrod knew she wanted to work on behalf of farm families. The Sherrods purchased land in Georgia and established a communal farm, modeled on a kibbutz Charles had visited. “Creativity” led to a farm-fresh market operated from the farm’s grounds.

But when the farm was lost, the activist in Sherrod reappeared. She fought discrimination that occurred during the loss and started officially working for farmers. That ultimately led to an appointment to the position of Georgia Director of Rural Development.

Though it seemed, at first, that the office was meant to help black farmers, Sherrod saw that farming wasn’t a racial issue. All farmers needed help and she was happy to get involved.

So happy, in fact, that she said so at an NAACP meeting. It was a speech that was dissected and started a firestorm.

Filled with grace, dignity and indignity, The Courage to Hope seemed to me like a double book, one part then and one part now. Fortunately, both are impressive.

With a voice that still seems a bit baffled by what occurred, Sherrod and Whitney write about confusion and outrage following the manipulation of a bit of her speech that lead to her very public job loss in 2010. Sherrod very squarely lays blame in this book, and though she doesn’t accuse President Obama or his staffers, she’s not complimentary.

I liked Sherrod’s life story, which is the other part of this book. It shows readers the foundation that gave Sherrod strength, and it’s a very good (although cringe-worthy) peek back in time.

This is one of those books that makes you want to yell, cry and stand up and cheer.


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