So said the U.S. Supreme Court.
It isn’t true.
Shirley Sherrod’s story in her now famous speech about the lynching of a relative is not true. The veracity and credibility of the onetime Agriculture Department bureaucrat at the center of the explosive controversy between the NAACP and conservative media activist Andrew Breitbart is now directly under challenge. By nine Justices of the United States Supreme Court. All of them dead.
But first, it’s important to say this.
After Shirley Sherrod’s firing I wrote a column congratulating Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for removing her — based on a viewing of the now infamous edited Breitbart clip. I was wrong. I should have waited to see the entire video or read the transcript before writing a word. So my apologies to Ms. Sherrod.
I have now done exactly what I should have done originally. So there’s no mistake about “selective editing” of videos or speech transcripts, here is a link to the website of the NAACP, where they have made a point of posting the full video of Shirley Sherrod’s speech. I have seen the entire speech as supplied by the NAACP. The now-famous speech runs just over 40 minutes. If you don’t have the time, here is a link to the printed transcript of her speech supplied by a site called American Rhetoric Online Speech Bank. The transcript is taken in full from the video version of her speech, which American rhetoric also supplies. I have read the transcript as well.
Let’s get to this.
In her speech, Ms. Sherrod says this:
I should tell you a little about Baker County. In case you don’t know where it is, it’s located less than 20 miles southwest of Albany. Now, there were two sheriffs from Baker County that — whose names you probably never heard but I know in the case of one, the thing he did many, many years ago still affect us today. And that sheriff was Claude Screws. Claude Screws lynched a black man. And this was at the beginning of the 40s. And the strange thing back then was an all-white federal jury convicted him not of murder but of depriving Bobby Hall — and I should say that Bobby Hall was a relative — depriving him of his civil rights.
Plain as day, Ms. Sherrod says that Bobby Hall, a Sherrod relative, was lynched. As she puts it, describing the actions of the 1940s-era Sheriff Claude Screws: “Claude Screws lynched a black man.”
This is not true. It did not happen. How do we know this?
The case, Screws vs. the U.S. Government, as she accurately says in the next two paragraphs, made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Which, with the agreement of all nine Justices of the day — which is to say May 7, 1945 — stated the facts of the killing of Bobby Hall this way:
The arrest was made late at night at Hall’s home on a warrant charging Hall with theft of a tire. Hall, a young negro about thirty years of age, was handcuffed and taken by car to the courthouse. As Hall alighted from the car at the courthouse square, the three petitioners began beating him with their fists and with a solid-bar blackjack about eight inches long and weighing two pounds. They claimed Hall had reached for a gun and had used insulting language as he alighted from the car. But after Hall, still handcuffed, had been knocked to the ground, they continued to beat him from fifteen to thirty minutes until he was unconscious. Hall was then dragged feet first through the courthouse yard into the jail and thrown upon the floor, dying. An ambulance was called, and Hall was removed to a hospital, where he died within the hour and without regaining consciousness. There was evidence that Screws held a grudge against Hall, and had threatened to “get” him.
The very first paragraph of the Supreme Court decision states:
1. Upon review of a judgment affirming the conviction, for violation of § 20 of the Criminal Code and conspiracy thereunto, of local law enforcement officers who arrested a negro citizen for a state offense and wrongfully beat him to death, the judgment is reversed with directions for a new trial.