NAACP retracts criticism of USDA worker


NAACP leaders called Tuesday on the Obama administration to reconsider its ousting of a black Agriculture Department worker, saying that a conservative website edited her comments to make them seem racist.

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement that the group was “snookered” into believing that USDA employee Shirley Sherrod expressed racist sentiments at a local NAACP meeting in Georgia earlier this year. Jealous said conservative activist Andrew Breitbart, whose website posted video of Sherrod’s remarks, 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.”

The Obama administration said it was standing by its decision to oust Sherrod, despite evidence that her remarks were misconstrued and calls for the USDA to reconsider.

The controversy began Monday when the conservative website posted a two-minute, 38-second video clip of Sherrod’s remarks to a local NAACP chapter. The Huffington Post said a YouTube video was then aired on Fox News. The footage has stoked racial and political tension amid allegations by the NAACP that the Tea Party movement is bigoted.

Newsvine: Was USDA official unfairly forced out?

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 Associated Press 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 different version of events.

Agriculture Secretary Tom 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 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.

But Sherrod, in an interview with CNN, said her remarks to the NAACP were being intentionally misconstrued by conservative groups stoking racial tensions.

“I was speaking to that group, like I’ve done many groups, and I tell them about a time when I thought the issue was race and race only,” Sherrod told CNN. She said the incident she described in her speech occurred some 24 years ago, when she worked for a nonprofit aid group. “I was telling the story of how working with him helped me to see the issue is not about race. It’s about those who have versus those who do not have.”

The farmer’s wife, Eloise Spooner, 82, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday that Sherrod helped save their land. Spooner, who considered Sherrod a “friend for life,” said that “the federal official worked tirelessly to help” the couple hold onto their farm as they faced bankruptcy in 1986, the Atlanta newspaper reported.

“Her husband told her, ‘You’re spending more time with the Spooners than you are with me,’ ” Spooner told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “She took probably two or three trips with us to Albany just to help us out.”

In the video, Sherrod is shown talking about “the first time I was faced with having to help a white farmer save his farm.” Her remarks came at a local NAACP Freedom Fund banquet, which the video says took place in March this year.

She said in the clip that the farmer had tried to show he was “superior” to her.

“He had to come to me for help. What he didn’t know, while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me, I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him,” she said in the film.

theGrio: USDA official’s punishment doesn’t fit crime“I was struggling with the fact that so many black people have lost their farmland 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,” she added.


Shirley Sherrod, seen in a picture on the USDA’s website.

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