Shirley Sherrod, a Black USDA official announced her resignation on July 19. Sherrod, the former USDA Georgia Director of Rural Development said the White House pressured her to resign. “They called me twice,” Sherrod told the Associated Press. “The last time they asked me to pull over the side of the road and submit my resignation on my Blackberry, and that’s what I did.”
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsak released a statement on June 20, accepting Sherrod’s resignation. “Our policy is clear. There is zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA and we strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person,” Vilsak said in the statement. “We have a duty to ensure that when we provide services to the American people we do so in an equitable manner. But equally important is our duty to instill confidence in the American people that we are fair service providers.”
According to CBS News, the issue stems from a video posted on BigGovernment.com that shows Sherrod purportedly speaking at an NAACP Freedom Luncheon in Georgia in March. In the short clip, she explained that a White farmer was seeking her assistance in protecting his farmland from foreclosure. But she said she was reluctant to fully help the farmer after sensing his condescending tone. The clip is also posted on the Internet video site YouTube.
“The first time I was faced with having to help a white farmer save his farm, he took a long time talking, but he was trying to show me he was superior to me. I know what he was doing,” Sherrod said in the video. “But he had come to me for help.”
Sherrod further explained that while the farmer was speaking to her, she was contemplating exactly how much she was going to help him. “I was struggling with the fact that so many Black people had lost their farm land, and here I was faced with having to help a White person save their land. So I didn’t give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough … So I took him to a White lawyer that had attended some of the training that we had provided because Chapter 12 bankruptcy had just been enacted for the family farm. So I figured if I take him to one of them, that his own kind would take care of him.”
Sherrod is arguing that her comments were taken out of context and she says that she eventually became friends with the farmer and his wife. “My point in telling that story is that working with him helped me to see that it wasn’t a Black and White issue,” she told the New York Daily News. She explained that the incident occurred in 1986, and was before she worked for the agriculture department.
Still, Sherrod’s critics are deeming her as a racist.
NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous recently issued a statement, siding with Vilsack on Sherrod’s resignation. “We concur with the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack in accepting the resignation of Shirley Sherrod … Racism is about the abuse of power,” Jealous said in the statement. “Sherrod had it in her position at USDA. According to her remarks, she mistreated a White farmer in need of assistance because of his race. We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with the abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers. The NAACP will continue to advance the ideals of America and fight for freedom, justice and fairness for all Americans.”