Tuesday, July 20, 2010

White Farmer's Wife Says Black Official Saved Them

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday he has offered to rehire the civil servant he forced to resign two days ago over her comments about race that were taken out of context in a brief video clip.

Vilsack said he offered Shirley Sherrod, who was the state director of rural development in Georgia, a unique new position at the agency but wouldn't go into details. Sherrod told The Associated Press she is considering the offer.

"I accept full responsibility with regret," Vilsack said at a news conference. "She's been put through hell. I could have and should have done a better job."

UPDATE: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday he will reconsider the department's decision to oust a black employee over racially tinged remarks after learning more about what she said. That move came after Glenn Beck defended the fired employee on his Fox News show.

From The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ~ The wife of a white Georgia farmer on Tuesday defended a federal agriculture official who lost her job for saying she once withheld help to the couple on the basis of race.

The former official, Shirley Sherrod, "kept us out of bankruptcy," said Eloise Spooner, 82, of Iron City in southwest Georgia. Spooner, in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, added she considers Sherrod a "friend for life." She and her husband, Roger Spooner, approached Sherrod for help in 1986 when Sherrod worked for a nonprofit that assisted farmers.

Sherrod, who is African-American, was asked to resign Monday night by a USDA official after videotaped comments she made in March at a local NAACP banquet surfaced on the Web. Recounting her dealings with the Spooners, Sherrod said she didn't help them as much as she could because of their race.

But Eloise Spooner said as far as she's concerned Sherrod worked tirelessly to help the couple hold onto their land as they faced bankruptcy.

Spooner said she spoke to Sherrod by phone Tuesday morning after the story hit cable news.

"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."

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement Tuesday saying the controversy made Sherrod's position as a rural development director, a job she was appointed to last March, untenable.

"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."

The NAACP, which had released a statement Monday critical of Sherrod, backtracked Tuesday, saying it was "snookered" by Andrew Breitbart, whose Web site 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."

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