On Monday, Shirley Sherrod resigned from a senior position with the USDA in Georgia after edited video clips surfaced appearing to show her admitting to racial bias toward a white farmer.
However, when the full video of her speech at an NAACP event was made public, the civil rights group retracted a previous statement condemning her for acting in a racist manner, and said she had been treated unfairly. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack then said in the early hours of Wednesday that he would reconsider the USDA’s decision to ask for her resignation.
“I am of course willing and will conduct a thorough review and consider additional facts to ensure to the American people we are providing services in a fair and equitable manner,” Vilsack said.
But Sherrod, who said on Tuesday that she was pressured to resign, said on NBC’s TODAY show that she might not want her job back.
“I am just not sure how I would be treated there,” she said, adding that she couldn’t get coworkers to listen to her side of the story about a speech she made in March, edited clips of which were recently shown on a conservative website.
Sherrod said her comments were part of a larger story about learning from her mistakes and racial reconciliation. They were not racist, she said, and were taken out of context.
“That’s not my message. That’s not me,” she said on TODAY. “If you look at my life’s work, you would know that that’s not me.”
NAACP was ‘snookered’
On Tuesday, NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said that the group was “snookered” into believing that Sherrod expressed racist sentiments at a local NAACP meeting in Georgia earlier this year. After initially supporting her ouster, Jealous changed his mind and said she should keep her job.
The Obama administration’s move to reconsider her employment was a reversal on the position just hours earlier, when a White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said President Barack Obama had been briefed on Sherrod’s resignation after the fact and stood by the Agriculture Department’s handling of it.
“We have to overcome the divisions that we have,” she told the audience. “Change has to start with us. … Our young people, I’m not picking on you, but y’all gotta step up to the plate. … You are capable of being those doctors and lawyers.”
ACORN prostitute video
The two-minute, 38-second video clip posted Monday by BigGovernment.com was presented as evidence that the NAACP was hypocritical in its recent resolution condemning what it calls racist elements of the Tea Party movement.
The website’s owner, Andrew Breitbart, said the video shows the civil rights group condoning the same kind of racism it says it wants to erase.
BigGovernment.com is the same outfit that gained fame last year after airing video of workers at the community group ACORN counseling actors posing as a prostitute and her boyfriend.
The Huffington Post said after Breitbart posted the YouTube video of the speech, it was then aired on Fox News and Sherrod’s resignation came shortly after.
Jealous said Breitbart deceived millions of people by releasing only partial clips. He said the full video makes clear that Sherrod was telling a story of racial unity.
“The tape of Ms. Sherrod’s speech at an NAACP banquet was deliberately edited to create a false impression of racial bias, and to create a controversy where none existed,” Jealous said Tuesday afternoon. “This just shows the lengths to which extremist elements will go to discredit legitimate opposition.”
Sherrod said she was on the road Monday when USDA deputy undersecretary Cheryl Cook called her and told her the White House wanted her to resign because her comments were generating a cable news controversy.
“They called me twice,” she told the AP in an interview. “The last time they asked me to pull over to the side of the road and submit my resignation on my BlackBerry, and that’s what I did.”
‘It hurts me’
Sherrod said administration officials weren’t interested in hearing her explanation. “It hurts me that they didn’t even try to attempt to see what is happening here, they didn’t care,” she said. “I’m not a racist … Anyone who knows me knows that I’m for fairness.”
The administration gave a slightly different version of events.
Vilsack — not the White House — made the decision to ask Sherrod to resign, said USDA spokeswoman Chris Mather. She said Sherrod willingly resigned when asked.
In a previous statement, Vilsack said the controversy surrounding Sherrod’s comments could, rightly or wrongly, cause people to question her decisions as a federal employee and lead to lingering doubts about civil rights at the agency, which has a troubled history of discrimination.
The decision by the NAACP Tuesday afternoon to support Sherrod was in stark contrast to its initial reaction to the incident Monday night in a statement: “Racism is about the abuse of power. 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.”
In that statement, Jealous said the organization was “appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers.”
“Her actions were shameful. While she went on to explain in the story that she ultimately realized her mistake, as well as the common predicament of working people of all races, she gave no indication she had attempted to right the wrong she had done to this man,” he said.
However, the NAACP reversed its position after seeing the full video of the speech.