WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is standing by its quick decision to oust a black Agriculture Department employee over racially tinged remarks at an NAACP banquet in Georgia, despite evidence that her remarks were misconstrued and growing calls for the USDA to reconsider.
Shirley Sherrod, who until yesterday 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 that 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 partial video of her speech on Monday.
"We have come to the conclusion we were snookered . . . into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias," said the statement from NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous.
A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 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 that the NAACP, which recently passed a resolution condemning what it calls racist elements of the Tea Party, condones racism of its own.