A black Agriculture Department employee who resigned after a video clip showed her talking about a white farmer said Tuesday her remarks were taken out of context.
Shirley Sherrod, the department’s former state director of rural development for Georgia, discusses the incident in the clip that took place more than two decades ago – and she recounted it to an audience to make the point that people should move beyond race.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday he had accepted Sherrod’s resignation.
“There is zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA, and I strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person,” Vilsack said.
“We have been working hard through the past 18 months to reverse the checkered civil rights history at the department and take the issue of fairness and equality very seriously.”
Sherrod told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution there were white people, including a mayor, at the banquet where she spoke. “Why would I do something racist if they were there?”
The NAACP issued a statement late Monday backing Vilsack’s decision.
“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,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the civil rights group. “We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers.”
“Her actions were shameful,” Jealous continued. “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.”
Sherrod said Tuesday that it was “unfortunate that the NAACP would make a statement without even checking to see what happened. This was 24 years ago, and I’m telling a story to try to unite people.”
She said she tried to explain to USDA officials, “but for some reason, the stuff Fox and the Tea Party does is scaring the administration. I told them to get the whole tape and look at the whole tape and see how I tell people we have to get beyond race and work together.”