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USDA Discusses Outreach Work with Sherrod

posted on May 20, 2011


ATLANTA (AP) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants help with minority outreach from a former official in Georgia who was ousted in a racial flap and later received an apology from President Barack Obama, a department spokesman said Saturday.

The administration has been in talks with Shirley Sherrod, who resigned last year as Georgia's director of rural development, said Justin DeJong, a spokesman for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The USDA is discussing whether Sherrod and her nonprofit, The Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education Inc., are willing to conduct outreach on a contract basis, DeJong said. A final decision has not been reached.

"She and her organization have been committed to breaking down barriers and promoting equal opportunity," DeJong said.

Sherrod confirmed that she had spoken with federal officials but said she still needs more details about the work before making a decision.

"We really haven't gone into any deep conversations yet," she said. "If there's something I can do to help with the problem of discrimination within USDA and see how I can do that, then I'm open to looking at it."

Earlier this week, Vilsack's department released a government-commissioned study that found the Agriculture Department is still plagued by civil rights problem that in the past led to unequal treatment of minorities seeking loans and other help. Discrimination was deemed most acute at the Farm Service Agency, which is responsible for delivering farm loans and other programs to rural residents.

Vilsack's department wants to use community organizations to make sure federal funding is reaching people who have historically complained of discrimination.

Sherrod was forced to resign her post last year when a conservative blogger posted an edited video showing remarks that Sherrod made at an NAACP meeting.

The video recorded Sherrod, who is black, telling of initially giving short shrift a quarter-century ago to a white farmer seeking financial help. Blogger Andrew Breitbart omitted from the video Sherrod's explanation that she realized her mistake and helped the man save his farm. She later received apologies from Vilsack and Obama, who asked her to return.

Sherrod has sued Breitbart for defamation and inflicting emotional distress. The blogger has said he released the video to demonstrate racism within the NAACP. In a statement that did not mention Sherrod by name, Breitbart said he "rejects the transparent effort to chill his constitutionally protected free speech."


Tags: African Americans agriculture farmers government news race racism USDA