The Federation Sends Letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack
Regarding Sherrod Resignation
ATLANTA....On July 19, former Federation staff member and head of the USDA’s Rural Development Office in Georgia was asked by the USDA to resign her post. The reason was because of the ramifications of a distorted video from a March 2010 speech she gave at the NAACP in south Georgia that was publicized by Fox News. In response to this the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund has sent the letter below to Thomas Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture.
July 21, 2010
The Honorable Thomas Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
We at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund are writing regarding your decision to ask Shirley Sherrod to resign. We think you must reconsider and immediately reinstate her as Georgia USDA State Director of Rural Development.
Your decision to force Ms. Sherrod to resign was taken in haste without a thorough and complete review of the facts, context and circumstances of her actions. We feel you were unduly influenced by distorted and edited videotape that completely misrepresented a speech Ms. Sherrod made to the NAACP in Georgia.
It is a sign of leadership to admit to mistakes and quickly corrected them. We feel you as Secretary of Agriculture must quickly correct this injustice committed against Ms. Shirley Sherrod and the people she has struggled for years to serve. This is the transformative awareness and enlightened judgment we are expecting from you.
We note with interest that your concern is to move forward to solve the problems that USDA has had in the past in terms of its sad record on civil rights. Yet your decision to fire one of the few persons in the country who could likely do the most to help achieve that goal stubbornly negates your stated interest of moving forward toward equal access and equality of opportunity at USDA with integrity.
At the NAACP gathering in March this year, Shirley was sharing with the group her experience in the 1980’s of assisting the white farmer Roger Spooner. She, in fact, was instrumental in helping to save his farm. She describes the process of getting beyond her assumption that whites didn’t need services and assistance. She realized that being white did not make anyone immune to the problems of and to the lack of access to services. She realized rather that it was a matter of who has and how does not. This was a life changing experience for her. Her message was that all of us need to get beyond race and assist each other whether black or white.
Another of your interests we know is to finally resolve the lawsuits against USDA. Lack of access to services at USDA is the basis for the Pigford lawsuit. In addition to securing the necessary funding for settling Pigford from Congress to finally resolve this injustice to individual farmers, we know that another essential step in moving forward is to assist and assure farmers have access to the USDA programs. Programs, in fact, that are supposed to be available on an equitable basis to all farmers.
Shirley Sherrod in her remarkable career has been one of the most active practitioners in assisting untold numbers of black and white farmers to access the credit, conservation and other programs at USDA. Shirley has essentially been an ambassador for the USDA in her work at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and as Georgia State Director of Rural Development. If anything, she deserves to be honored for this work and not falsely condemned and forced to retire in disgrace.
We find it ironic that in the one hundred years of USDA’s history of discrimination, not a single white person has been dismissed for discrimination, however, a Black women who is doing her job well is falsely accused of discrimination in an altered video and you decide that she can no longer do a credible and nondiscriminatory job of dispensing USDA rural development programs and must resign.
Once Shirley is restored to her position, we feel it would enhance USDA’s goals by utilizing her as an ambassador for USDA. She could offer USDA staff throughout the country training and teaching about transformation on the issue of race and what it means to offer service to all farmers with justice and integrity regardless of race.
In summary, the inference that Shirley Sherrod is a racist is beyond comprehension. For you to make a decision without consideration of Shirley’s long and impressive work in civil rights is uncalled for. It is not only an insult to her, but also to the communities she has worked for and with all these many years as well as our organization that has for decades fought against racism and injustice in the rural South
We ask that you immediately reconsider your decision to fire Shirley Sherrod, apologize to her and consider instead the tremendous asset she has been and could continue to be for the USDA and rural America. We urge you to learn from this disagreeable incident and make it a shining example of a true change of heart and direction at USDA toward a brighter day of racial reconciliation and justice for all.