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Vilsack Fires Then Apologizes to USDA Employee

posted on July 23, 2010

While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made racial discrimination illegal, many of America's black farmers contend they were systematically denied federal loans and subsidies for decades. In 1999, they agreed to a landmark civil rights settlement with USDA.

To this day though, thousands of black farmers say they've never received a penny of the record $2.3 billion, LARGELY, because Congress has failed to appropriate funds for the settlement.

While the House has approved settlement funding in two separate bills, the Senate has repeatedly failed to authorize the spending. On Thursday, the Senate removed the settlement funds again, stripping them this time from a war funding bill.

Critics have blasted both the legislative and executive branches of government for moving TOO SLOWLY on the discrimination case. But this week, the Obama Administration's point man on agriculture apologized for acting TOO QUICKLY in an effort to fight racism.

Vilsack Fires Then Apologizes to USDA Employee Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture: "I've learned a lot of lessons from this experience in the last couple of days and one of the lessons I learned is that these types of decisions require time. I didn't take the time. I should have and as a result, a good woman has gone through a very difficult period. And, I will have to live with that for a long, long time."

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack apologized Wednesday to Shirley Sherrod after demanding she resign as USDA's Director of Rural Development in Georgia. Vilsack called for her to step down Monday based on a report she admitted to racial bias against a white farmer.

Shirley Sherrod, USDA Dir. of Rural Development, Georgia: "What he didn't know, while he was taking all that time trying to show he was superior to me, was I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him."

Sherrod's comments were taken from a March speech at a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People event.

Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture: "It's not my place to absolve anybody from anything other than to accept responsibility for what I did and I'm accepting the responsibility with deep regret. This is a good woman and she has gone through hell."

Clips of the speech given by Sherrod in March of this year first appeared on Andrew Breitbart's web site, "Big Government." In the speech Sherrod admits at one point to not giving the farmer "the full force of what she could do."

Shirley Sherrod, USDA Dir. of Rural Development, Georgia: "And here I was faced with having to help a white person, save their land. So, I didn't give him the full force of what I could do."

According to Sherrod, after the clip was posted on Monday, she was contacted three times that day and told the White House wanted her resignation. The White House denies any involvement and Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack insisted the decision was his. According to Vilsack, "There is zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA, and I strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person… We have been working hard through the past 18 months to reverse the checkered civil rights history at the department and take the issue of fairness and equality very seriously."

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, supported the call for Sherrod's resignation but later claimed that "We were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias."

A review of the entire speech, which the NAACP has since posted on its web site, shows Sherrod using her experience with the white farmer as a way to teach the importance of racial tolerance, and how she later used the full force of her position to assist the farmer.

Shirley Sherrod, USDA Dir. of Rural Development, Georgia: "What we've got to do is get that out of our heads. There is no difference between us."

The Obama Administration issued its own apology to Sherrod. On Wednesday, White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs called the dismissal a mistake.

Robert Gibbs, White House Spokesperson: "Without a doubt Ms. Sherrod is owed an apology. I would do so certainly on behalf of this administration."

Vilsack has since offered Sherrod another position within USDA and President Obama extended his regrets regarding her dismissal, but Sherrod has stated repeatedly she's not sure she will ever return to the USDA.

Tags: African Americans agriculture civil rights government jobs news race racism Tom Vilsack USDA