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USDA Employee's Resignation At the Center of a Firestorm

USDA Employee's Resignation At the Center of a Firestorm

Secretary Vilsack apologizes to Sherrod.

It was the view of the Congressional Black Caucus that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack should immediately reinstate Shirley Sherrod - the USDA employee he fired Monday because of a video in which she appeared to admit that she withheld assistance from a white farmer. Vilsack demanded that Sherrod resign after an edited version of the video was posted on a conservative blogger's Web site.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee of California said Sherrod was clearly educating the public about the power of redemption. She said it was apparent Secretary Vilsack did not have all of the facts available to him and he overreacted.

Vilsack has discussed a unique opportunity at USDA with Sherrod who was in the hot seat because of a speech given at a past NAACP banquet. Video of Sherrod describing the first time she was faced with helping a white farmer save his farm caused quite a stir at USDA and subsequently around the nation. But once the full story surfaced Vilsack offered an apology and in a briefing with reporters Wednesday afternoon said he didn't handle the situation well. He apologized for reacting too quickly and said he hopes Sherrod will stay with USDA. According to Vilsack, her experience, commitment and record of service at USDA would be invaluable to the department.

Vilsack said Sherrod has a unique and compelling story to tell as she and her family endured discrimination and overcame adversity. He said she has helped farmers who were struggling to keep their land, fought for women in need of social and economic justice and African-American men and women who faced discrimination. As USDA's Georgia State Rural Development Director, she worked to promote economic opportunity for all people by enabling job creation and business growth. He added that she has shown tremendous character through the events of the last few days.

Sherrod had told a story of how she struggled with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland and she was faced with helping a white person save their land. Initially, she said she didn't give him the full force of what she could do and only gave him enough help to keep his case progressing. But she went on to say eventually his situation opened her eyes, that whites were struggling just like blacks, and helping farmers wasn't so much about race but was about the poor versus those who have.

The white farming family that was the subject of the story stood by Sherrod. Eloise Spooner, the wife of farmer Roger Spooner of Iron City, Ga., said they probably wouldn't have their farm today if it hadn't been for her leading them in the right direction.

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