Shirley Sherrod Offers to School Obama on Race

Sherrod has plenty to say about the administration's real race challenges.

By Kai Wright Jul 22, 2010

Update @ 2:10p ET: CNN reports that President Obama spoke with Sherrod by phone this afternoon. CNN"s Julie O’Neill was with Sherrod at the time and reported Sherrod was "very, very pleased with the conversation." According to CNN:

Obama compared some of the events this week surrounding Sherrod to things he has written about in his books, O’Neill said. Sherrod "invited him to South Georgia," she added.

During the seven-minute conversation, "The president told Ms. Sherrod that this misfortune can present an opportunity for her to continue her hard work on behalf of those in need, and he hopes that she will do so," the White House said in a statement about the phone conversation.

Obama "expressed to Ms. Sherrod his regret about the events of the last several days," the statement said.

"She’s feeling pretty good after talking to him," O’Neill said.

Sherrod said she didn’t discuss with Obama whether the White House demanded her firing. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said he made the decision himself, but Sherrod has previously said she doesn’t buy that explanation. 

No word on whether they discussed the administration’s timidity about facing down any attack from the right. Andrew Breitbart, who posted the heavily edited video that started the whole mess, has said he didn’t edit the video himself and that he wasn’t targeting Sherrod but rather the NAACP.


Maybe everybody should have left Shirley Sherrod alone. Looks like she’s indeed got plenty to say about race and racism in the U.S. government–and about holding Andrew Breibart accountable for his serial lying. Sherrod told Good Morning America today that, while she’s not sure she wants another job in the administration, she does want to talk to President Obama about race. George Stephanopoulos quotes from the interview in his blog:

"I can’t say that the president is fully behind me, I would hope that he is…I would love to talk to him," Sherrod said on "GMA." 

"He is not someone who has experienced what I have experienced through life, being a person of color. He might need to hear some of what I could say to him," she told me. "I don’t know if that would guide him in a way that he deals with others like me, but I at least would like to have the opportunity to talk to him about it." 

No word yet from the White House on whether the President will call Sherrod.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has publicly apologized for the hasty firing of Sherrod, as has the White House, through spokesperson Robert Gibbs. Vilsack offered her a job but she’s not sure she wants it–nor is she clear the Agriculture Department has done as much as it thinks it has to fix decades of systemic bias against black farmers.

"I haven’t had a chance yet to look at just what that offer is. As I said earlier, I really, I know that he talked about discrimination in the agency and after all of these years that is still happening…And I would not want to be the one person in the agency that everyone is looking at to clear up discrimination in the Department of Agriculture," Sherrod said. 

Sherrod, the former Georgia director of rural development, said she needs reassurance from both Vilsack and Obama that they are fully committed to ending discrimination as well. 

"Many of the same people who discriminated against black farmers continue to work there…There are some other things that would need to happen within the agency that have not happened to this date," she told me.

Meanwhile, on CNN this morning she said she just may sue Breitbart for defamation. TPM reports:

"I don’t know a lot about the legal profession but that’s one person I’d like to get back at, because he came at me. He didn’t go after the NAACP; he came at me," she went on. 

She agreed with the hosts that it would be a "great thing" if Big Government was shut down. "I don’t see how that advances us in this country." 

"It’s hard for me to understand a person like him, and it’s hard for me to understand what is his purpose, what is he trying to do really," she said. "He could easily make a decision to destroy me, but in destroying me, what else is he trying to do?"

TPM also suggests that Breitbart’s real target in this may have been the administration’s effort to pay the long overdue settlement the U.S. government owes black farmers for its decades of bias. Congress is poised to vote on funding for that payment. It seems pretty clear Breitbart hoped to influence the debate over the NAACP’s Tea Party resolution (call it the dumb and dumber news cycle). But TPM has a point: this case has long been anathema to the right.

Photo: Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla