*In a move that screams “we jumped the gun,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says he will reconsider his department’s decision to fire a black employee over racially tinged remarks after learning more about what she said.
Vilsack issued a short statement early this morning regarding Shirley Sherrod, who until Tuesday was the Agriculture Department’s director of rural development in Georgia. She said she was pressured to resign because of her comments that she didn’t give a white farmer as much help as she could have 24 years ago.
Sherrod has maintained that her remarks, delivered in March at a local NAACP banquet in Georgia, were part of a larger story about learning from her mistakes and racial reconciliation, not racism, and they were taken out of context by a conservative blogger who posted only part of her speech.
Vilsack’s statement this morning came after the NAACP posted the full video of Sherrod’s comments last night. (Scroll down to watch.)
“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.
The Obama administration’s move this morning to reconsider her employment was a complete reversal from 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.
But as the story gained traction on Tuesday – reaching a peak when Sherrod’s full, unedited statement was released – growing calls for the administration to reconsider the decision put pressure on Vilsack, who stressed that the decision to ask for her resignation was his alone.
The NAACP, which initially condemned Sherrod’s remarks and supported her ouster, later said she should keep her job. The civil rights group said it and millions of others were “snookered” by the conservative website that posted partial video of her speech on Monday.
The white farming family that was the subject of the story also stood by Sherrod and said she should stay.
“We probably wouldn’t have (our farm) today if it hadn’t been for her leading us in the right direction,” said Eloise 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.”
After the Spooners defended Sherrod on all three network newscasts Tuesday evening, and as Sherrod reached out to media to plead her own case, the administration faced criticism that officials nervous about racial perceptions overreacted to her comments and made her a political sacrifice amid dueling allegations of racism between the NAACP and the tea party movement.
As previously reported…
In the clip posted on BigGovernment.com, Sherrod described the first time a white farmer came to her for help. It was 1986, and she worked for a nonprofit rural farm aid group. She said the farmer came in acting “superior” to her and 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,” Sherrod said.
Initially, she said, “I didn’t give him the full force of what I could do” and only gave him enough help to keep his case progressing. Eventually, she said, his situation “opened my eyes” that whites were struggling just like blacks, and helping farmers wasn’t so much about race but was “about the poor versus those who have.” [See edited clip below.]
The two-minute, 38-second 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. [See biggovernment.com’s edited clip below.] 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.