Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Farmer's wife says fired USDA official helped save their land

Late Breaking News On Dismissed Sherley Sherrod USDA

Despite being defended by the white farmer she allegedly discriminated against, former U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod will not get her job back

Sherrod "kept us out of bankruptcy," said Eloise Spooner, 82. She and her husband Roger Sooner, who own a farm in Iron City, located in southwest Georgia, approached Sherrod in 1986 -- when she worked with the Georgia field office for the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund -- seeking assistance.

Sherrod was asked to resign Monday night by USDA Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl Cook after videotaped comments she made in March at a local NAACP banquet surfaced on the web.

"The comments, taken out of context or not, hinder her ability to be an effective rural development director for Georgia," said a U.S. Agriculture spokesperson who wished not to be identified. "Because of that videotape, it would be very hard for her to to be an effective messenger."

The NAACP, which released a statement Monday critical of Sherrod, backtracked Tuesday, saying they were "snookered" by Andrew Breitbart, whose Website biggovernment.com released the edited video. Breitbart did not respond to a request seeking comment.

"Having reviewed the full tape, spoken to Ms. Sherrod, and most importantly heard the testimony of the white farmers mentioned in this story, we now believe the organization that edited the documents did so with the intention of deceiving millions of Americans," NAACP President Ben Jealous said in a statement. "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. This just shows the lengths to which extremist elements will go to discredit legitimate opposition."

Jealous asked the USDA to reconsider Sherrod's dismissal but, in a statement, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stood by his decision.

"First, for the past 18 months, we have been working to turn the page on the sordid civil rights record at USDA and this controversy could make it more difficult to move forward on correcting injustices," Vilsack said. "Second, state rural development directors make many decisions and are often called to use their discretion. The controversy surrounding her comments would create situations where her decisions, rightly or wrongly, would be called into question making it difficult for her to bring jobs to Georgia."

In the video, Sherrod, an African-American, told the crowd she didn't do everything she could to help a white farmer whom she said was condescending when he came to her for aid.

"What he didn't know while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me was, I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him," Sherrod said on the video, recorded March 27 in Douglas in southeast Georgia.

But Spooner, who considers Sherrod a "friend for life," said the federal official worked tirelessly to help the Iron City couple hold onto their land as they faced bankruptcy back in 1986.

"Her husband told her, ‘You're spending more time with the Spooners than you are with me,' " Spooner told the AJC. "She took probably two or three trips with us to Albany just to help us out."

Spooner spoke to her friend by phone Tuesday morning.

"She's very sad about it," Spooner said. "She told me she was so glad we talked. I just can't believe this is happening to her."

Sherrod, in her first interview after the clip surfaced, told the AJC the video was selectively edited. She said the video posted online Monday by biggovernment.com and reported on by FoxNews.com and this newspaper misrepresented the message she was trying to convey.

"For Fox to take a spin on this like they have done, and know it’s not the truth … it’s very upsetting," said Sherrod, 62, who insisted her statements in the video were not racist. "I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had 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 said the incident helped her get beyond issues of race.

"And I went on to work with many more white farmers," she said. "The story helped me realize that race is not the issue, it's about the people who have and the people who don't."

Sherrod accused the USDA of cowering to right-wing media.

"They were just looking at what the Tea Party and what Fox said, and thought it was too [politically] dangerous for them," Sherrod said of her former employer.

The release of Sherrod's statements came a week after the NAACP issued a resolution calling some elements of the National Tea Party racist for comments allegedly made against President Barack Obama and African-American congressmen during the health care debate.

Asked whether he thought the release of the video was a timed response to the NAACP resolution, Jealous told the AJC: "This video was put out by Mr. Breitbart and it was heavily promoted by Fox News."

Sherrod was appointed to her position by Obama's administration in July 2009 to manage more than 40 housing, business and community infrastructure and facility programs, and more than $114 billion in federal loans.

The NAACP late Monday evening released the full 43-minute, 15-second video footage of Sherrod's speech. A production company, DCTV3 in Douglas, recorded the event at the local NAACP chapter's request and forwarded it to the national level to upload on the national Web site.

"We broadcast it on cable," Wilkerson said. "Somebody probably picked it up and recorded it, then put it on YouTube. That's probably why the video looks so shabby."

Sherrod said it wouldn't have made any sense for her to espouse racist comments before the NAACP audience.

"There were some white people there. The mayor [of Douglas] was there," Sherrod recalled. "Why would I do something racist if they were there?"

Mayor Jackie Wilson told the AJC she introduced speakers at the banquet but left before Sherrod's speech.

Wilson said she did not hear of any controversy in the weeks following the banquet, adding she was shocked to learn of Sherrod's resignation.

"She's not someone I know extremely well, but I respected her and thought she was doing a good job. And she seemed to be a fair person," said Wilson, who was city manager before becoming mayor 2 1/2 years ago. "I just hate that this kind of thing happened in Douglas."

Jealous insisted Sherrod be reinstated, despite Vilsack's contention her word were intolerable, even when taken out of context.

"We believe there is another, better option for the country," Jealous told the AJC. "That is to prove her belief that she can do the job."

Eloise Spooner told the AJC she intends to stand up for her friend.

"She helped us and we're going to help them," she said.

--Staff writer Larry Hartstein contributed to this report.

Source of up-date Huffington Post

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