In the wake of former USDA official Shirley Sherrod’s firing for a speech she gave in March, new details have emerged that call into question the punitive actions of her superiors, including the Obama administration.
Shirley Sherrod, a black woman who served as the USDA's rural development director for Georgia, says she was "forced out of her federally appointed job" after a "snippet" of a speech she gave in March appeared to show her admitting to lackadaisically helping a struggling white farmer because of his race.
Sherrod has from the beginning said that her comments were taken out of context. She asserts that she was using an anecdote from more than 20 years ago—well before she was in the Obama administration—to explain that people, regardless of their race, are essentially the same and deserving of unwaveringly equal treatment. Nevertheless, conservatives called her a liar and she lost her job.
But now the white farmers from Sherrod’s story, the Spooners, have come forward to unequivocally deny that they were ever mistreated by Sherrod. Not only do they corroborate her claim that she ultimately helped them to the best of her ability, they go so far as to credit her with saving their farm.
With that settled, what’s most important now is getting Shirley Sherrod her job back. Once that happens, her bosses—whoever they may be—need to publicly explain why she lost it in the first place.
As you might imagine, that's going to be difficult.
The White House says it never pressured the USDA to can Sherrod, a claim supported by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. However, Sherrod says that Agriculture DeputyUnder Secretary Cheryl Cook told her on the day of her firing that the orders were coming from the White House. If you’re playing at home, this means someone’s lying.
For its part, the NAACP, whose banquet Sherrod was speaking at when she gave her now infamous speech, has joined in the hasty, unwarranted dog pile on Sherrod, with President Ben Jealous saying, “We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers.”
After she's reinstated, Sherrod should an expect an apology from President Jealous and anyone else who attacked her integrity. Farms shouldn't house scapegoats.
-Cord Jefferson is a staff writer for The Root. Follow him on Twitter.