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Obama Administration Throws Shirley Sherrod Under the Bus

July 20, 2010

Were the administration and the NAACP too hasty in their reactions to Shirley Sherrod, the Department of Agriculture employee who resigned (i.e., was fired) for allegedly racist comments?

A video clip posted online Monday shows Sherrod delivering a speech at a March NAACP banquet, where she talks about her failure to help a white farmer who was in danger of losing his farm. Her suggestion: If he’d been black, she would have moved heaven and earth to help him. “There is zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA, and I strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in accepting Sherrod’s resignation. The NAACP, which last week accused the Tea Party of racism, rushed out a searing condemnation of Sherrod: “We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers,” said NAACP president Benjamin Jealous.

But I’m not so sure that this apparently quick and sharp rush to judgment was fair. The incident Sherrod recounts occurred more than 20 years ago, before she was employed by the federal government and while she worked for a Georgia organization that assisted farmers. One of the online snippets shows her all but saying she was wrong and explaining that the episode helped her to understand that race should not have played a role in the matter. Sherrod has since told CNN and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she worked for some two years to help the white man save his farm and that she and the man’s family ultimately became friends. The white farmer is deceased, but his wife has apparently confirmed Sherrod’s version of events.

Did the Ag Department fully vet this matter before ordering Sherrod’s removal? Did the White House or its political operatives have a hand in this personnel decision? Was Sherrod allowed to fully tell her side of the story before being axed? I’d like some answers.

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