Sherrod visits Spooners

Published 8:11 pm Friday, July 23, 2010

A woman who saved a family’s farm and the farmers who saved her reputation met Friday in Miller County for the first time since the national spotlight focused on their story.

Shirley Sherrod sat down with Roger and Eloise Spooner of Iron City, Ga., for the first time in more than 20 years Friday at the Emerald Lake RV Park in Miller County.

Sherrod said she wanted to see the Spooners after being caught up in the national spotlight this week. A controversial video of her recounting her story of working with the couple to keep their 400-acre farm during the 1980s had made national headlines.

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“I wasn’t going to give up a chance to see them,” Sherrod said Friday.

Sherrod, who is black, was criticized for remarks she made during a March 27 speech at an NAACP banquet. In a video circulated on the Internet, Sherrod said in a portion of that speech that she was at one time reluctant to help a white farmer facing foreclosure, but she did. The video caused Sherrod to initially lose her job, then when the entire speech was shown, she later received a job offer from the Department of Agriculture and several apologies, including one from President Obama.

Sherrod said Friday she has not had time to examine the latest job offer from the Department of Agriculture.

The Spooners, who were the first white farmers who had come to her for help, have been quoted as supporting Sherrod.

When the controversy surrounding Sherrod’s comments first circulated, it was the Spooners who said the premise and accusations that Sherrod was prejudice were all “hogwash.”

“We didn’t know a black lady was involved until two weeks before they were going to sell it,” Roger Spooner said Friday of their first meeting at a lawyer’s office, more than 20 years ago. “Race never crossed my mind … I didn’t even know the color of her skin until I got there.”

Sherrod’s speech to the NAACP was of her sharing her experience of transformation, from helping a white couple to actually helping a couple in need. Spooner said he never cared what Sherrod’s race was and said the experience wasn’t ever about race.

Spooner said as a World War II veteran who served on the USS Yorktown when it sank during the Battle of Midway and later in the Battle of Coral Sea, Spooner said he had “been around” and didn’t have racial prejudice.

He and Sherrod have come to share the same beliefs of rich versus poor, however.

“If we can get in our mind, those of us who deal with each other on a daily basis, that it’s not the skin color-this black skin color versus that white skin color,” Sherrod said while touching arm-to-arm with Mrs. Spooner. “(That) it’s about where we are in life and what we have, because those who ‘have’ seem to do quite well. And those of us who ‘have’ will do things that keep those of us who don’t from getting things.”

Sherrod added: “It took working with the Spooners for me to see that.”

Spooner said without her help, their farm would have been sold on the steps of the courthouse some 20 years ago.

“She was right there with us,” Spooner said. “She knew more about our business than we did.”

Sherrod and Spooner said the experience of working with the Farmers Home Administration, which was the agency trying to foreclose on the Spooners, was nasty and tragic.

But when asked if it is over for them, they all said no.

“It’s put back in the forefront the whole issue of racism,” Sherrod said. “Because it put the issue back out there, I think it’s leaving room for us to think about it, talk about it; (to) see if we can take another stab at doing something about it. For that reason, I think it will probably linger for a while. Then our 15 minutes of fame will be over with.”

But the 87-year-old Spooner summed it up:

“We haven’t seen her in 20 something years. We’re in shock. And we’re worn out, too. It’s been a mess.”

The meeting between Sherrod and the Spooners was arranged by a national news network. Spooner said he had doctors’ visits in Dothan, Ala., Friday morning and was asked if he could meet with Sherrod. At first he said he could at his home in Iron City, but a news outlet wanted the three to meet at another location. The Emerald Lakes RV Park owner was called and asked to open up on a day he would normally not.

“I didn’t know when we would get a chance to see you,” Spooner told Sherrod. “I thought it was going to be Sunday.”

Friday’s meeting also included an introduction of one of the Spooners’ twin sons, David, and his wife, Connie, to Sherrod.

After eating lunch together and being interviewed—again—Sherrod and the Spooners wanted to tour a small cabin that was built over the water at the RV park.

Finally, as they were leaving, Mr. Spooner turned to Sherrod and said, “You’re a very special lady.”