IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Ousted USDA official: Obama should call me

Asked Thursday if President Obama should call her in the wake of her abrupt ouster from her Agriculture Department job over purported racist remarks, Shirley Sherrod said she didn’t want Obama to apologize, but “I’d love to have a conversation with him.”
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Editor's note: President Barack Obama telephoned Shirley Sherrod, a former government employee, to express "regret" about her racially tinged firing, which the administration now admits was a mistake. For the updated story, click here.

The federal employee who was fired Monday after a video of her appearing to make racist remarks was posted on a conservative website said she deserves a phone call — but not an apology — from President Obama.

“I think I do,” Shirley Sherrod told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira early Monday in New York.

Vieira asked if the president should also apologize to her.

“He’s the president of the United States of America,” Sherrod said. “I’ve received the apologies that are important. I really would not want the president to apologize to me, but I’d love to have a conversation with him.”

Asked what she’d talk to the president about, the Georgia woman said, “I’d like to talk to him a little bit about the experiences of people like me. People who live out there in rural America. People who live in the South. I know he does not have that kind of experience. Let me help him a little bit with how we think, how we live and the things that are happening.”

Rapid eventsAfter the video was posted, allegations quickly surfaced that Sherrod, who is black, was edited to appear as if she had purposely discriminated against a white farmer 24 years ago, in the wake of generations of discrimination against black farmers. She made the remarks during a March 27 talk to a local NAACP chapter.

Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart did not post the full tape of her speech, in which she went on to say that she realized that poverty was the issue, not race. Breitbart had said he was given the partial video by an anonymous source.

Sherrod was quickly fired after the video surfaced, and condemned by the NAACP.

“He knew his actions would take Shirley Sherrod down,” Sherrod said of Breitbart, who said he feels sorry for her, but did not apologize. “It would be hard for me to forgive him at this point.”

After the full tape of her remarks subsequently surfaced, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack apologized to Sherrod and said he has created a new position for her. The NAACP has also apologized.

‘So unbelievable’Sherrod told Vieira she wants the president and the nation to know that there are many people like her. “We are people who struggle every day, who do the best we can in our community, who love this country,” she said. “We love him. We want him to be successful because we feel he thinks in some ways like we do and we think that’s good for the country. Yes, there are issues out there that we are faced with, issues of poverty, issues that I’ve worked so hard on. I want a good reflection for him as the first black president.”

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs apologized to Sherrod on behalf of the administration, but said that the decision to fire her was made by the USDA before the White House was informed of the incident.

Sherrod said she was specifically told by Department of Agriculture officials that the White House wanted her resignation in the last of three calls she received Monday.

“I stand by that,” she said. “The first call was, ‘We’re putting you on administrative leave.’ The next call was, ‘Shirley, we’re asking you to resign.’ Then, ‘The White House wants you to resign.’ ”

Sherrod said she asked officials to put her on leave while they investigated her claims that the video was not a complete record of what she had said, but said they would not do that.

“It was just so unbelievable. It would have been one thing to put me on administrative leave and then look into it,” she said.

“This has been going on for years and years,” the former rural development official said. “I thought we were getting to a place where we could talk about it, because we can’t deal with it until we can face each other. That’s the whole point I made when I talked.

“There’s always room for debate and discussion, because that’s what will get us to a point where we can tolerate each other.”

Sherrod told Vieira that no Agriculture Department employee was ever fired for years of discrimination against blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and women in the department. Some of the officials responsible for institutional discrimination still work at the agency, she said.

“Some have retired, but many of them are still there,” Sherrod told Vieira.

Sherrod said she is not inclined to accept the job Vilsack said he created for her, but has not yet seen a description of it and would not make a final decision until she does.