Shirley Sherrod makes amends with NAACP after group’s president condemned her for comments

By Mary Clare Jalonick, AP
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Shirley Sherrod makes amends with NAACP

WASHINGTON — Ousted Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod is publicly making amends with the NAACP after the group’s president condemned her for misconstrued comments she made about race.

Sherrod and NAACP President Ben Jealous will appear together at a rural development conference in Alabama on Saturday, and Sherrod has written a letter to the group’s members encouraging them to fight racism like she has.

Jealous traveled to Sherrod’s house in Albany, Ga. two weeks ago to apologize once more for being “hoodwinked,” as she called it, by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart who in July posted an edited clip of a March speech she made to a local NAACP group. The edited clip featured Sherrod saying she was initially reluctant to help a struggling white farmer save his farm in the early 1980s, but cut off before the part of the speech where Sherrod said she quickly learned from that mistake.

Sherrod was asked by the USDA to resign from her post as Georgia’s director of rural development when the blog post began to make news. Jealous sent out a statement the same day saying the group was “appalled” by her actions, which he called “shameful” and “intolerable.” He apologized after hearing a recording of her full remarks the next day.

“That’s behind us, and the last thing I want to see happen is my situation weaken support for the NAACP,” Sherrod said in the letter. “Too many people confronted by racism and poverty count on the NAACP to be there for them, especially those in rural areas who often have nowhere else to turn.”

Sherrod did not mention whether she would take the new job she was offered by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack after USDA officials saw the full video and reconsidered their hasty decision to ask her to leave. She did not return calls Tuesday.

In the letter, Sherrod equates the messy aftermath of Breitbart’s blog posting to her struggles after her father was murdered by a white man 45 years ago, stirring up an ongoing blame-game between the NAACP and the tea party movement that set the stage for the controversy over her ouster. Both groups have accused the other of having racist elements among their ranks.

“I didn’t yield when, just months after my father was killed, they came in the middle of the night to burn a cross in front of our house with my mother, four sisters, and the baby brother my father never got to see inside,” she writes. “And I’m surely not going to yield because some tea party agitator sat at his computer and turned everything I said upside down and inside out.”

Sherrod said last month that she would sue Breitbart.

“He had to know that he was targeting me,” she said then.

Jealous said Tuesday that he spent more than four hours with Sherrod talking to her and driving around rural Georgia to visit local cooperatives she has supported.

“She wanted people to hear from her,” he said of the letter sent to the group’s members, adding that “what Andrew Breitbart intended for evil, we will use for good.”

He said he doesn’t know if she’ll take the new job Vilsack offered.

“USDA was lucky to have Shirley Sherrod and they’ll be lucky to have her again if they can get her,” he said.

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