By now you’ve probably heard the name Shirley Sherrod. She is the U.S. Department of Agriculture employee who was asked to resign Monday after a video was released by news aggregator Andrew Breitbart. The video shows Sherrod saying she was hesitant to help a white farmer as much as she could. This morning Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that he will reconsider the abrupt firing, but Sherrod tells The Takeaway that she's "unsure" if she'd return to the job.
In the video Sherrod says that in 1986 she was approached by a white farmer who was facing the possibility of foreclosure on his farm. He came to her for help. "I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farm land," she says in the video. "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.”
But in an interview on CNN yesterday, that farmer’s wife, Eloise Spooner, defended Sherrod, calling her a good friend, saying, “They have not treated her right. She’s the one I give credit to helping us saving our farm.”
(Below, the original, unedited version of the video, as released by the NAACP Tuesday evening.)
CELESTE HEADLEE: We want to continue this conversation about Shirley Sherrod formerly of the USDA and the question over conversations of race in the United States. And we are actually joined by Shirley Sherrod again. She is the U.S. Department of Agriculture Employee who was asked to resign Monday after a conservative website, biggovernment.com, posted a highly edited version of her speech that she gave in March at an NAACP banquet. Shirley Sherrod, good morning.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: Good morning.
HEADLEE: You know, first of all I want to hear the rest of the story, but let me ask you, have you heard from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack or anyone else from the USDA since he said he was reconsidering their decision?
SHERROD: No I haven’t.
HEADLEE: Ok, so you’re still waiting for that?
SHERROD: Yes. I learned just this morning about an hour ago that a statement was made during the night, but I have not heard anything from them at all.
HEADLEE: Well we keep saying that the edited version of your comments didn’t tell the whole story, and so let’s hear the rest of the story from you. The comments that most people have heard on different media sites is you saying that you were hesitant to help a white farmer because of all the black farmers who had lost their land and had been the victims of racism and you didn’t put the full force of your effort behind him. What was the rest of that story that you told?
SHERROD: You know, the rest of the story that I told was I learned during the process of working with this farmer that some white farmers where treated just like black farmers. That was something I didn’t know before working with them. I had never worked to try to help save a white farmer’s farm before, and, in working with him, I saw that some of things that happened to black farmers happened to some white farmers. That was my transformation. That was the whole point of telling the story, that working with this farmer helped me to see that I needed to move beyond white versus black and to see that the issue was more about poor people—those who don’t have access versus those who do.
HEADLEE: You had not spoken to this farmer until you saw him on the CNN broadcast right?
SHERROD: Right. I really thought that Roger Spooner was deceased and realized that, no, it was someone else in his family when I saw it in the obituaries some years ago. So it was so great to be able to talk to them, to see them, because it’s been years—literally years—since I’ve talked to them and to also know that they were willing to come forward, you know, to tell exactly what I did for them.
HEADLEE: …which is a very different reaction from the NAACP or your own employers, the USDA.
SHERROD: Right! You know, when you look at how race relations have been through the years, you could have thought that this farmer would not step forward, but it’s just so great to know that even after all these years, they remember and they appreciate what I did. I’ve done that for so many farmers through the years. That’s what my life has been about: helping people, and for anyone to think that I would not help someone, that hurts because that’s me; that’s what I’ve been.
HEADLEE: I was just going to say, I read a bit of your story about what happened with your father—and I hope you’ll repeat that story for us—which led to your commitment to not only stay in the south, but to do what you’re talking about here. You point to what happened to your father as the impetus to your devotion to kind of help bridge the gap between the races. Can you tell us that story?
SHERROD: Yes, you know, my father was murdered in 1965 by a white farmer. I have every reason to live a life of hate, but I knew I couldn’t do that. And I remember on the night of my father’s death, as our house filled with people, I was in one of the bedrooms. We had just moved into a new home, and I was in one of the bedrooms praying, asking God to help give me an answer. I needed to do something. I knew I couldn’t pick up a gun to attempt to try to kill the person who killed him. And the answer came: you can give up your dream of leaving the south where I thought racism existed and it didn’t in the north—I thought all people were free there. My dream was to live in the north to get away from it. I could give that up and, because of what I said about my father, devote my life to working for change and, in that way, channel my energies into trying to do good. And that’s what I’ve done, you know, through the years.
HEADLEE: It was a conservative website—biggovernment.com—that originally posted the very edited clips at the NAACP, but after the NAACP called for your resignation and the USDA demanded your resignation, you got a very, very, might possibly odd, champion in Glen Beck.
GLENN BECK TAPE: “Hold on a second. They didn't talk to her? The NAACP didn't watch the video? When was the last time the NAACP didn't give someone the benefit of the doubt right away who was African American. Again, I point out the Black Panthers. Now if she is just relating a story from 1986 to point out how her racial perceptions have changed, this woman deserves her job back!"
HEADLEE: Shirley Sherrod, we just spoke with Lester Spence who said that this entire incident is being used as race-baiting.
HEADLEE: I’m wondering what your reaction is to that, that you yourself and your story, which is obviously very personal to you, is being used in what appears to be a kind of a political football game.
SHERROD: Yes, and, you know, for someone—for me—to have devoted my life so much for fairness, for not just black people but all people, to be thrust into the light in this way, it’s hurtful. And I’m so sorry. I know we need to continue this interview, but I do need to go.
HEADLEE: Okay, well thanks so much for spending some time with us. One last question for you: if Sectretary Vilsack offers you your job back, will you take it?
SHERROD: You know, I’m not sure about that because I’m not sure of how I would be treated at this point at USDA. Isn’t that something?
HEADLEE: Yeah, it is something. Well, we will have to see what your future job prospects are, Shirley Sherrod, but we wish you the best of luck. Shirley Sherrod resigned Monday as the USDA state director of rural development for Georgia after comments that were made public of her saying that she hadn’t helped the white farmer as much as she could have. Those comments were made in March at an NAACP banquet, and she joined us from a hotel in Atlanta, Georgia.
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