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Despite adversity, Shirley Sherrod has history of civil service

The USDA official's firing came after a conservative blogger posted her truncated comments to the NAACP that, 24 years ago, she didn't help a white farmer as much as she could have.

The dream turned into a battle for loans with USDA, said Sherrod's lawyer, Rose Saunders. The government denied the Sherrods, and they lost the land.

"It was sad, but by the time it happened, it was sort of inevitable," said Joseph Pfister, a friend of the Sherrods and a civil rights activist.

(It was 14 years before the U.S. government would right that wrong, settling with them for $13 million. Most of the money went to a nonprofit intended to buy back the land, Saunders said. The Sherrods were awarded $330,000 for pain and suffering.)

Not two years after the government foreclosed, Sherrod joined the Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund. It was there that she encountered Roger Spooner, a white farmer who had come to the cooperative for help, said Jerry Pennick, director of the fund.

It is Spooner whom Sherrod was talking about when she related the story that became bait for conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart.

Breitbart's false proposition -- that Sherrod had denied Spooner help -- was revealed when the farmer appeared on CNN to back her. "I tell you what, I never was treated no better than Shirley," Spooner said as his wife, Eloise, nodded in agreement.

Her friends back home said she made her point with flair. "Shirley has shown that you don't have to be afraid. All you have to do is be right," Pennick said.

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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