E-mails released Friday morning confirm unequivocally that White House officials praised USDA executives for their swift firing of Shirley Sherrod, the former Agriculture employee forced to resign in July on bogus charges of racism. There’s still no proof that President Obama or his close advisors ordered Sherrod to be dispatched, as Sherrod has claimed, but there is evidence showing that senior staffers knew of her removal from office, and commended it.
"Just wanted you to know that this dismissal came up at our morning senior staff meeting today," Christopher Lu, who serves as the White House's liaison to the Cabinet, wrote to senior Agriculture officials on the morning of July 20, the day after Sherrod was fired.
"Everyone complimented USDA on how quickly you took this action," Lu wrote, noting that the swift move helped stop an "unpleasant story" from gaining any "traction" in the early hours of the flare-up.
"Thanks for the great efforts," Lu concluded to the Agriculture officials.
Obtained by CNN, the e-mails also tell of an internal debate between Agriculture executives about whether they were moving too hastily on Sherrod. Ultimately, the people calling for her to be fired won.
"We need to make sure someone has seen the video," Agriculture official Krysta Harden wrote in an e-mail at 3:06 p.m. on July 19. "I am quick to jump to conclusions but want to be certain it is what it is said to be before I tell the Secy" she said in reference to Vilsack.
But another Agriculture official, Carol Jett, piped in otherwise: "We need to take immediate action."
Harden added that Vilsack "is absolutely sick and mad over the S Sherrod issue. He wants her immediately on [administrative] leave."
"Concur," wrote Agriculture official John Berge. "She should be fired."
After being exonerated, Sherrod turned down a new job offer at Agriculture and hasn’t yet taken another post anywhere. In a statement about the e-mails, she called her firing “an undeniable teaching moment for this country. As we continue to examine the importance of diversity among all ranks of government and the private sector, we cannot forget that racism still exists. We need to combat it once and for all and I look forward to taking an active role in leading that national conversation.”
More so than the continuing prevalence of racism, I think the moral that needs to be gleaned from the Shirley Sherrod story—especially in light of these e-mails—is that patience is a virtue. Had White House staffers and Agriculture officials taken literally a half hour to assess what was really going on, they would have realized that Sherrod did nothing wrong. Instead, they temporarily ruined a woman’s life.
Next time, it may not be temporary.
-Cord Jefferson is a staff writer at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.