In a statement sent at 2 a.m. today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack backed off his previous statements defending the forced resignation of Georgia rural development director Shirley Sherrod and said he’s willing to reconsider.
“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.Sherrod is keeping the question of whether she’d want her job back up in the air.
“Because of all the publicity surrounding what happened…how would I be treated once I’m back there? I just don’t know,” she told Good Morning America. “I would have to be reassured on that.”
She said on CNN a little later, however, that she might consider going back. She said she got a call from the president of the NAACP chapter where she gave the speech this morning. He told her she should take it if it’s offered, because she could “do even more for us.”
“I hadn’t looked at it in that light,” she said.
Sherrod was asked to resign after Andrew Breitbart posted a clip of a speech she gave to the Coffee County, Ga., NAACP in March. In the speech, Sherrod recounts the first time that, while working with a nonprofit set up mostly to help black farmers, she had to help a white farmer. In the speech, she admits she didn’t help him as much as she could have.
Sherrod was asked to resign almost immediately. Vilsack defended the move in strongly worded statements. The USDA, trying to recover from its own institutional racism, cannot afford a rural development director who’s given even the perception of racism, he said.
But last night, the NAACP released the full 43-minute video of the speech. It shows — as Sherrod promised it would — that she told the story of her own prejudices in order to explain how she overcame them.
“Working with him made me see that it’s really about those who have versus those who don’t. They could be black, they could be white, they could be Hispanic. And it made me realize then that I needed to work to help poor people,” she says.
A few hours later, Vilsack sent out a new statement. The NAACP, which originally condemned Sherrod, also released a new statement after reviewing the full video.
Breitbart, for what it’s worth, is unmoved by the full video. The issue, he admits, was never Sherrod. Instead, he posted the video in order to prove racism within the NAACP. Breitbart, a champion of the Tea Party movement, is battling with the NAACP after the group voted to condemn racism among tea partiers. He also told TPMmuckraker yesterday that he’s still battling with the mainstream media for their reporting of alleged racism at the health care reform protests.