Shirley Sherrod's commitment to fighting injustice was sparked by the fatal shooting of her father, a black farmer, by a white farmer in 1965, in what was described as a spat over some cows. Sherrod was 17 when her father died—and an all-white grand jury declined to charge the shooter. "I decided to stay in the South and work for change," Sherrod tells CNN in an interview. That same year she was refused the right to register to vote, and her husband-to-be was pushed down the stairs by the county sheriff.
Sherrod has defended the rights of minority farmers in Georgia for four decades, starting a cooperative farm project in the '70s, and, several years ago, suing the USDA, winning a $1 billion settlement—the largest civil rights settlement in history—for 16,000 farmers who were victims of discrimination. She was hired by the USDA just last August. Sherrod noted that the speech that caused her to lose that job was about getting beyond racial division. Now she's trying some of her own medicine. "I can't hold a grudge. I can't even stay mad for long," she said. "I just try to work to make things different." For more on the Sherrod brouhaha, click here.