Black USDA Official Resigns Amid Racism Claims

Told live audience she refused to fully help white farmer due to race

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Connie Bolger

A black USDA official in Georgia has resigned after publicly admitting she didn't help a white man trying to save his farm to the "full force" of her power and instead referred him to "one of his own."

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he had accepted Shirley Sherrod's resignation, saying there was "zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA."

The NAACP, which recently condemned racism in tea party groups, also issued a statement Monday night saying: "Racism is about the abuse of power. Sherrod had it in her position at USDA. According to her remarks, she mistreated a white farmer in need of assistance because of his race."

The Huffington Post said a YouTube video clip of her speech was first posted on the blog and a report was then aired by Fox News.

Sherrod, who resigned late Monday from her job as USDA's Georgia director of rural development, is shown talking about "the first time I was faced with having to help a white farmer save his farm." Her remarks came at a local NAACP Freedom Fund banquet, which the video says took place in March this year.

She says in the clip that the farmer had tried to show he was "superior" to her.

"He had to come to me for help. What he didn't know, while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me, was I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him," she says in the film.

"I was struggling with the fact that so many black people have lost their farmland and here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land — so I didn't give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough," she adds.

'His own kind'
Some of her remarks appear to be greeted with laughter by some of the crowd.

Sherrod says she took the farmer to see "one of his own," referring to a white lawyer. "I figured that if I take him to one of them, that his own kind would take care of him," she says.

In his statement, NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said the organization was "appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers."

"Her actions were shameful. While she went on to explain in the story that she ultimately realized her mistake, as well as the common predicament of working people of all races, she gave no indication she had attempted to right the wrong she had done to this man," he said.

"The reaction from many in the audience is disturbing. We will be looking into the behavior of NAACP representatives at this local event and take any appropriate action," Jealous said.

He thanked the people who had brought Sherrod's remarks to the attention of the NAACP's national office.

"Sherrod's behavior is even more intolerable in light of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's well documented history of denying opportunities to African American, Latino, Asian American, and Native American farmers, as well as female farmers of all races," Jealous said. "Currently, justice for many of these farmers is being held up by Congress."

Vilsack's statement said he "strongly" condemned discrimination against anyone.

"We have been working hard through the past 18 months to reverse the checkered civil rights history at the department and take the issue of fairness and equality very seriously," he said.

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