USDA Appointee Forced To Resign After Edited Speech Released By Breitbart (VIDEO)

Former USDA employee Shirley Sherrod
Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

Shirley Sherrod, an appointee to the USDA, was forced to resign yesterday after Big Government posted a video of a speech Sherrod gave in March. In the video, Sherrod, who is black, recounts how, 24 years ago, she didn’t help a white farmer as much as she could.

In the speech, given to a local Georgia chapter of the NAACP, Sherrod recounts a time when, while she was working for a land assistance fund, a white farmer came and asked her for help.

“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,” she said. “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.”

Here’s the clip:

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who appointed Sherrod last year as the Georgia director for rural development, announced today that Sherrod had resigned, saying in a statement “There is zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA, and I strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person.” Sherrod told CNN that Cheryl Cook, the Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development, demanded her resignation on the phone while Sherrod was on the way back to the main office from a field office by telling her she was about to be on Glenn Beck.

But Sherrod told first to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and then CNN that her comments were taken out of context. She says that the anecdote was part of a larger story, one in which she explains how she overcame her initial prejudice.

“The story helped me realize that race is not the issue, it’s about the people who have and the people who don’t. When I speak to groups, I try to speak about getting beyond the issue of race,” she told the AJC, adding that she went on to help other white farmers.

Big Government has not posted the full speech. The Douglas, Ga., company which filmed the banquet for the local NAACP has refused to release it to TPMmuckraker. The owner of the video company, Johnny Wilkerson, says he is sending the full video to the national NAACP, and hopes to post it in full once he gets permission.

Wilkerson also told us that the full speech is exactly as Sherrod described, and that she goes on to explain learning the error of her initial impression and helping the farmer keep his farm.

In 1986, at the time of the incident, Sherrod worked for the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund, a job she held until she was appointed to the USDA last year.

Sherrod identified the white farmer as Roger Spooner. CNN today interviewed his wife, Eloise Spooner, who said Sherrod had helped her and her husband save their farm.

“She’s a good friend … she helped save her farm,” Spooner said, adding that Sherrod did all she could to help them. “They have not treated her right.”

At first, the national NAACP released a statement supporting Sherrod’s resignation.

“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. We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers,” president Ben Jealous said in a statement.

The statement, however, appears to have been removed from the organization’s web site.

The timing of the video’s release is notable. Just last week, the NAACP passed a resolution asking the Tea Party movement to repudiate racism, a move that sent tea partiers and others on the right into a frenzy.

Indeed, Big Government’s post, written by Andrew Breitbart, is a response to the NAACP resolution. The headline reads: “Video Proof: The NAACP Awards Racism-2010,” and is framed in the context of the resolution.

Late update: Video of CNN’s interview with Sherrod and Spooner:

Latest Muckraker
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: