U.S. agriculture official forced out of post over video of NAACP speech
WASHINGTON — A black employee who resigned from the U.S. Agriculture Department over comments at a Georgia NAACP meeting said Tuesday the White House forced her out of her job over a manufactured racial controversy.
Shirley Sherrod, who until Tuesday was USDA’s director of rural development in Georgia, said she was on the road Monday when Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary Cheryl Cook called her and told her the White House wanted her to resign.
“They called me twice,” Sherrod said. “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.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement saying his agency has no tolerance for discrimination.
The controversy began Monday when the conservative website BigGovernment.com posted a two-minute, 38-second video of Sherrod’s remarks to a local NAACP banquet. She said the video was selectively edited and misleading, while the white farm family she was accused of discriminating against came forward on Tuesday to praise the help she gave them.
In the video, Sherrod talks about the first time a white farmer came to her for help when she worked for a nonprofit rural farm aid group in 1986. She said he came in acting “superior” to her and that she debated how much help to give him. “I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland, and here I was, faced with helping a white person save their land,” she said.
Initially, she said, “I didn’t give him the full force of what I could do.” But, she said, his situation finally “opened my eyes” that helping farmers wasn’t so much about race but was “about the poor versus those who have.”
The wife of the white farmer in that case told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday that Sherrod “kept us out of bankruptcy.” Eloise Spooner, 82, who considers Sherrod a “friend for life,” said the official worked tirelessly to help the couple hold onto their land as they faced the possible loss of their farm in 1986.
“We probably wouldn’t have (our farm) today if it hadn’t been for her leading us in the right direction,” said Spooner, the wife of farmer Roger Spooner of Iron City, Ga. “I wish she could get her job back because she was good to us, I tell you.”