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A second open letter to President Obama

Open letter to President Barack Obama II

Dear President Obama,

On July 21, I hurriedly wrote an open letter to you concerning Shirley Sherrod. Because of the time crunch, there were things I did not say. In addition, certain new developments have occurred. Therefore, I feel compelled to write another open letter.

President Obama, in my previous letter I wrote of a watershed moment for you, your administration, African-Americans and this country. I said that this watershed moment may cause the benefit of doubt that now flows to you from you. I write because we are still in the throes of such a moment.

Since I wrote you, certain concrete steps have been taken. I truly appreciate each action: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack apologized to Shirley Sherrod; you communicated directly with her, other statements were issued that helped; and she was offered a civil rights position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These actions are good but I strongly believe we are still treading in the same dangerous watershed moment.

In my letter, I urged you to reinstate Shirley Sherrod to the position from which she was removed. You have not. The offering of a civil rights position is not the same or the equivalent of the previous position even if it pays a higher salary and possesses greater status. It is not fair and does not appear to do justice. In my humble opinion, only an offer of the same position will meet the moment, insuring the benefit of doubt flowing toward you instead of away from you.

Let me explain why this is the best, and only, solution. USDA, and its predecessors, has been discriminating on the basis of race for more than 70 years. As a result, over $1 billion was paid to African-American farmers as compensation. There is an additional proposed settlement wherein you recommend another $1.25 billion to close this sad chapter of massive discrimination.

In spite of such documented discrimination, not one single white official was disciplined in any way, not to speak of terminated. Yet, this African-American woman, Shirley Sherrod, was terminated from a hard won position suddenly, forcefully and brutally without any consideration whatsoever. The Sec. Vilsack publicly stated that he would not reinstate her even though he knew the basis of her termination was false and malicious. These actions smacked of the long discriminatory history of the USDA. Therefore, going half way by taking the aforestated steps is not enough. Shirley Sherrod must be made whole. The only real way to accomplish this task is to reinstate her to the position from which she was removed.

Let me go one step further. The position Shirley Sherrod held had broad economic impact: she influenced tens of millions of dollars. This position she appears to have been offered has no such economic impact. Therefore, it does not make whole either Shirley Sherrod or the people of Georgia that she served. She must be reinstated to the position he formerly held.

The civil rights position offered appears to be birthed by the same mentality that brought about the initial termination, the refusal to reinstate and other actions. Please reinstate Shirley Sherrod. If other positions are more appropriate, they can be considered at a subsequent moment.

I appreciate you and your administration. I strongly support you. As I said, you have accomplished, among other things, the following: you stopped the country from the headlong rush over the economic cliff; you led the way to national health care, sometimes presidents have been trying to achieve for more than 100 years; you saved the American auto industry from extinction; you prevented the whole financial system from a meltdown; you helped enact much needed financial reforms to prevent future disasters; and you made BP set aside $20 billion so hurting folks will not have to wait for years to receive compensation. These are all good things but the watershed moment still swooped down upon you. And, it is still swooping.

Mr. President, I would not do you, myself or the people justice if I did not tell you that there are very strong perceptions that those around you do not possess the collective sensitivity and perspective to effectively deal with issues involving African-Americans. Whether true or not, their perspective is perceived as taking African-Americans’ concerns for granted. This may have contributed to this critical watershed moment. As I said previously, no leader can truly lead without the benefit of the doubt. Let your spirit manifest itself in the moment.

Mr. President, this moment remains a watershed, a time and events divide that may cause the benefit of the doubt to flow from you instead of to you. I want you to succeed for the sake of this country, your sake and our sake. As I said, you must seize the moment or it will seize you.

Hank Sanders is a state senator representing Dallas County.