Obama Apologizes to Shirley Sherrod

Thursday, July 22, 2010

President Barack Obama apologized to former U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) Georgia official Shirley Sherrod on Thursday over the pressure the White House put on her to resign from her post earlier this week. That's according to White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs. In his remarks on Thursday, Gibbs also said the president hoped Sherrod would accept a new position at the Agriculture Department.

Sherrod, who is Georgia's former director of rural development, resigned from her U.S.D.A. position on Monday evening, reportedly due to pressure from the White House over alleged discriminatory remarks that she made to a white farmer in 1986.

The Associated Press reports that Sherrod, who is black, said that she debated back then how much help to give to the farmer because she felt he had acted "superior" to her. She was not working for the U.S.D.A. at the time.

"I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland, and here I was faced with helping a white person save their land," Sherrod said on Wednesday morning national television shows, according to The AP. Eventually, Sherrod said, she realized that the farmer's situation indicated that poor white people in Georgia were struggling just as poor black people were.

Nevertheless, she says that earlier this week, the White House moved her to resign for her 1986 remarks. The N.A.A.C.P. also initially criticized her, after she recounted the story at one of its dinners in March.

In the past 24 hours, the White House and the N.A.A.C.P. have begun to think better of Sherrod, especially after she revealed that the 1986 incident helped her overcome her own biases. On Tuesday evening, an anonymous Obama administration official said the White House and the Department of Agriculture were reviewing the case again, based on new evidence that had come to light about Sherrod's comments.

Rev. Jesse Jackson called on the White House to apologize for the way Sherrod had been treated. "With each passing hour this case becomes more intense, and just as the president moved quickly on the Gates-Crowley case he should move quickly on this case," Jackson said, according to The AP. "The politics of fear cannot overwhelm the politics of truth, and she has truth on her side."

The white farming family which Sherrod made her comments to urged the government to retain Sherrod on staff. "We probably wouldn't have (our farm) today if it hadn't been for her leading us in the right direction," Eloise Spooner said, according to The AP. "I wish she could get her job back because she was good to us, I tell you."

On Wednesday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Robert Gates apologized to Sherrod for the way the White House had handled her comments in the past 36 hours, and said the incident called into question the way the administration and media had handled it.

“How did we not ask the right questions?" Gibbs asked. "How did you all not ask the right questions? How did other people not ask the right question and go from there?"

According to the AP, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also offered his own apology to Sherrod, as well as a new position with the department, which she is reportedly considering.

Updated 7/22/10.

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