TODAY

TODAY   |  July 21, 2010

Ousted USDA official: ‘Look at the whole thing’

Shirley Sherrod, the USDA official at the center of a race controversy, says, “If you looked at the entire tape, I don’t see how you would come away thinking I was a racist.”

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

LAUER: Savannah Guthrie , thank you very much . Shirley Sherrod is with us now from Atlanta . Ms. Sherrod , good morning to you.

Ms. SHERROD: Good morning.

LAUER: What a 24 or 48 hours you've had. I mean, let's go through it here. You were villainized, you were forced to resign, and then when even the most elementary level of investigation was put toward your situation -- what I like to call the oopses began -- -the NAACP , which had originally came out against you, apologized saying they'd made a mistake and now I even understand that the Agriculture secretary who originally stood by his decision has said he's willing to see more information. Can you describe your emotions as we sit here and talk this morning?

Ms. SHERROD: You know, it's so hard looking at the last 24 hours . When the department -- when -- you know, when this first came to light I said to them, `You need to look at the whole thing. That's not the message I was putting out there.' And for them all day yesterday to say they were standing by their decision, and now, you know, at this late hour to be saying they're now willing to look at the facts, you know, it's hard to take at this point.

LAUER: What's outrageous about this is this story that was sent out there as an example of racism on your part was the opposite. It was a story of enlightenment and transformation of overcoming the narrow-mindedness that you had been surrounded by as a younger woman. And here it was completely misconstrued and misrepresented.

Ms. SHERROD: Yes, and I couldn't get people -- I couldn't get the people I was working with, people who should have listened to me to see that, because that was one of the things I kept saying, `You need to look at the whole thing. That's not my message, that's not me. If you look at my life, you -- if you look at my life's work you would know that that's not me.'

LAUER: As a state worker in Georgia , you tell this story about how you were dealing with a white farmer who was about to lose his farm and perhaps the temptation was there on your part to continue down the road you had seen so many travel in the past and maybe not give that farmer, that white person , all the benefit of your help, but you had this almost an epiphany at that moment...

Ms. SHERROD: Yes.

LAUER: ...and said, `Wait a second, the civil rights movement was not about black vs. white , it's about the poor and the powerless and this man deserves as much help as anyone.' I mean, did -- could anyone who had listened, who would have listened to the entire story have thought of you as a racist?

Ms. SHERROD: I don't think they would have. I don't -- if, you know, anyone -- you know, most people would not have known me, but if they had looked at the entire tape, I just don't see how they could have come away with it thinking I was a racist.

LAUER: I don't know who to...

Ms. SHERROD: You know, those who...

LAUER: ...I don't know who to blame here, Ms. Sherrod . I mean, the activist who put forward this garbage in the first place has an agenda. We shouldn't be surprised by that.

Ms. SHERROD: Right.

LAUER: The cable news network that played this garbage on and on and talked about it has an agenda. We shouldn't be surprised by that. I am shocked at the NAACP , I have to admit...

Ms. SHERROD: Yes.

LAUER: ...that they did not investigate further before condemning you and I'm shocked at the Obama administration for not putting an investigation in place either. Can you give me your thoughts on that?

Ms. SHERROD: Yes. I was particularly hurt by the NAACP 's reaction to it because if they -- you know, I've put years, all of my life has been about civil rights work and fairness, and if they had just taken the time to look at it to see, to look at me , to see what I've done, I'm certain they would not have come out with that first statement. But I can appreciate the fact that they've now looked at it, they've seen and they came out with a new statement.

LAUER: And as for the Obama administration...

Ms. SHERROD: I can accept the apology.

LAUER: ...as for the Obama administration, why do you think the secretary of Agriculture acted so quickly in this situation?

Ms. SHERROD: You know, that is so hard to take, especially when I kept saying, ` Look at the entire thing. Look at my message,' and no one would listen. No one would listen.

LAUER: The NAACP , Ms. Sherrod , now calls this a teachable moment. What lessons have you learned?

Ms. SHERROD: Oh, gosh. You know, the -- it's -- the outpouring of support has just been great for me to -- you know, I don't know that I would have done anything different because this is just me, this is my life , it's all about fairness, and then to not be treated fairly, you know, in this whole situation, is -- it's just something hard to deal with.

LAUER: The door seems to be open a little bit to you getting your old job back. Do you want to walk through that door?

Ms. SHERROD: You know, I am just not sure of how I would be treated there now. That's one I just don't know at this point.