WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is standing by its quick decision to oust a black Agriculture Department employee over supposedly racially tinged remarks at an NAACP banquet in Georgia, despite evidence that her remarks were misconstrued and growing calls for USDA to reconsider.
Shirley Sherrod, who until Tuesday was the Agriculture Department's director of rural development in Georgia, says the administration caved to political pressure by pushing her to resign for saying that she didn't give a white farmer as much help as she could have 24 years ago when she worked for a nonprofit group.
Sherrod says her remarks, delivered in March at a local NAACP banquet in Georgia, were part of a story about racial reconciliation, not racism. The white farming family who was the subject of the story stood by Sherrod and said she should keep her job.
"We probably wouldn't have (our farm) today if it hadn't been for her leading us in the right direction," said Eloise Spooner, the wife of farmer Roger Spooner of Iron City, Ga. "I wish she could get her job back because she was good to us, I tell you."
The NAACP, which initially condemned Sherrod's remarks and supported Sherrod's ouster, joined the calls for her to keep her job. The civil rights group said it and millions of others were duped by the conservative website that posted edited video of her speech on Monday.
The Associated Press, citing a White House official speaking on condition of anonymity, reported President Barack Obama was briefed on the matter after Sherrod's resignation and stands by the Agriculture Department's handling of it.
The website biggovernment.com gained fame last year after airing video of workers at the community group ACORN counseling actors posing as a prostitute and her boyfriend. It posted the Sherrod video as evidence the NAACP, which recently passed a resolution condemning what it calls racist elements of the tea party, condones racism of its own.
Sherrod said she was on the road Monday when USDA deputy undersecretary Cheryl Cook called her and told her the White House wanted her to resign because her comments were generating a cable news controversy.
Sherrod said administration officials weren't interested in hearing her explanation: "It hurts me that they didn't even try to attempt to see what is happening here, they didn't care. I'm not a racist … anyone who knows me knows that I'm for fairness."