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Beyond Shirley Sherrod: Racial discrimination at the USDA

In the midst of the Shirley Sherrod whirlwind last week, there was something that grabbed our attention. At his mea culpa press conference, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack mentioned this:

“For the last 18 months, we have really focused on trying to address the longstanding history of civil rights claims against the department. They’re outstanding claims brought by black farmers, Hispanic farmers, women farmers, native American farmers, and these are not just a few incidences or a few isolated claims. These are tens of thousands of claims that have been brought against the department.”

Wait — what? Need to Know’s Alison Stewart steps back from the furor over the Shirley Sherrod saga and examines the broader history of racial discrimination at the Department of Agriculture, including the decline of black-owned farms in America.

Plus: Our interview last week with Terence Samuel, deputy editor of The Root, on how the mainstream media handles issues of race and discrimination.

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