Our nation's latest ugly debate over race focused the country's attention on south Georgia. At first it seemed to be a sordid example of blatant racism. But it turned out to be a beautiful story of racial harmony right here in the deep south that should be held up as a shining example to the rest of the country.
You know the details by now. Based on edited clips from a speech she gave, conservative media vilified Shirley Sherrod as a racist and accused her of refusing to help white people. The NAACP blasted her, and the Secretary of Agriculture forced her to quit her job in disgrace.
But the point of that speech was the polar opposite of what was initially portrayed. She was encouraging people to overcome their racial prejudices and work together to serve people in need, no matter their color.
That has been the life's work of Shirley Sherrod and her husband Charles, a civil rights legend in these parts. Yet the brand of racist may have stuck to her in the national consciousness were it not for another couple who spoke up on Shirley's behalf.
Roger and Eloise Spooner are the white folks Shirley Sherrod supposedly wronged. In reality, the Spooners would have lost their family farm were it not for Sherrod's diligence and determination on their behalf.
When they heard that their old friend was being called a racist, without any prodding, they stood up to restore Shirley Sherrod's good name. Mr. Spooner called the allegations "hogwash."
They're in their late 80s now and still running that family farm Ms. Sherrod helped save almost 25-years ago. The last thing they needed was the inconvenience of satellite trucks in their driveway and news crews in their living room. Still, they didn't hesitate to tell the truth to anyone who would listen.
Shirley Sherrod may have legitimate reason to hold some racist views. Her father was murdered by a white man who was never brought to justice. She's been a victim of racism probably too many times to count in her life, yet she dedicated that life to helping poor south Georgians . . . black and white.
The Spooners, too, could easily have given in to prejudice. They grew up at a time and in a culture in which black Americans were second class citizens. It was the law. Yet if the Spooners ever harbored any racist feelings, they overcame them.