The Department of Agriculture staffer fired following the posting of out-of-context statements on a conservative blog spoke with President Obama June 22 and met with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, but said she’s still not sure whether she’ll take a new job with the department.
Shirley Sherrod, the former director of rural development in Georgia for the Department of Agriculture, was fired July 20 after a video clip surfaced on the Internet of Sherrod at an NAACP event in March saying she once did not help a farmer in Georgia as much as she could have because he is White.
The 2-1/2-minute video was posted by Andrew Breitbart, a conservative blogger at biggovernment.com.
Once the video surfaced, it quickly caught the attention of Agriculture brass. Sherrod was fired over the phone during a drive back to Georgia when she apparently was told to pull over to submit her resignation.
“They asked me to resign and in fact, they harassed me,” said Sherrod to CNN. She was speaking of USDA Deputy Undersecretary Cheryl Cook, who, according to Sherrod, provided no opportunity for an explanation. The Obama administration initially said it stood by Vilsack’s decision to fire Sherrod, and NAACP President Benjamin Jealous condemned her for the statements in the video.
But the truth about her statements came out in the full-length, unedited tape of her speech: Sherrod related the story of the Georgia farmer, which occurred in 1986, in the context of telling her audience how she learned to transcend racial distinctions. The farmers involved told CBS News that Sherrod eventually helped them avoid foreclosure.
Sherrod spoke by phone with Obama for seven minutes on July 22, according to The Los Angeles Times, and offered him a tour of Georgia and civil right landmarks. According to the Times, Obama didn’t immediately accept, but instead invited Sherrod to e-mail him thoughts on civil rights issues, using a White House staffer as an intermediary.
“His message was to let me know he cared about discrimination and wanted to help,” Sherrod said. As for the offer to lead Obama on the tour, “he did not commit,” she said.
Vilsack offered Sherrod a personal apology, saying he made a bad decision he’ll “have to live with…for a long, long time.” He also offered her a new job with the department’s Office of Advocacy and Outreach, which works with disadvantaged farmers. Sherrod said she has not decided whether to take the job.
“Because of all the publicity surrounding what happened…how would I be treated once I’m back there? I just don’t know,” she said on “Good Morning America.” “I would have to be reassured on that.”
The NAACP also back-tracked on its statement, claiming it was “snookered” into believing Sherrod expressed racist sentiments during the tape by Fox News and Breitbart.
“With regard to the initial media coverage of the resignation of USDA Official Shirley Sherrod, we have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias,” Jealous said in a statement released the evening of July 20. “Having reviewed the full tape, spoken to Ms. Sherrod, and most importantly heard the testimony of the White farmers mentioned in this story, we now believe the organization that edited the documents did so with the intention of deceiving millions of Americans.”
Among those who stepped up to defend Sherrod was country singer Willie Nelson, who in 1985 founded Farm Aid, an organization and annual music event aimed at supporting family farms in the U.S.
“Shirley Sherrod has been a great friend to me, Farm Aid and family farmers for 25 years,” Nelson, Farm Aid president, said in a statement from the organization’s headquarters in Cambridge, Mass. “She has always worked to improve economic opportunities for family farmers in the South, going back to when I first met her as the director of the Georgia Field Office for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. Like Ms. Sherrod herself has said, she’s always tried to help those who don’t have so that they can have a little more.”