President Obama Calls Shirley Sherrod, Expresses “Regret”

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From the New York Times:

President Obama on Thursday urged Shirley Sherrod, the black Georgia Agriculture Department official whose firing and subsequent offer of rehiring this week renewed a conversation about politics and race, to continue “her hard work on behalf of those in need,” the White House said.

Mr. Obama reached Ms. Sherrod by telephone at about 12:30 p.m., several hours after she had said on national television that she believed she deserved a telephone call from the president. They spoke for seven minutes, during which time Mr. Obama expressed to Ms. Sherrod his “regret” about the events of the last several days and emphasized that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack “was sincere in his apology” for her initial dismissal.

Ms. Sherrod appeared on a round of morning talk shows the day after the White House and Mr. Vilsack apologized profusely and repeatedly to her for the way she had been humiliated and forced to resign after a conservative blogger released a misleading video clip that seemed to show her admitting antipathy toward a white farmer.

Ms. Sherrod, who until Monday was the rural development director for the Agriculture Department in Georgia, said she was inclined not to return to the agency. Mr. Vilsack on Wednesday said that he would ask her to return to use her expertise to help move the department past its checkered history in race relations, but she told NBC’s “Today” that she did not want the burden of solving the department’s racial problems to rest entirely on her.

During that interview, held earlier in the day, she said that she would like to have a conversation with Mr. Obama but did not believe he owed her an apology.

“I’d like to talk to him a little bit about the experiences of people like me, people at the grass-roots level, people who live out there in rural America, people who live in the South,” she said. “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.”

The full video of Ms. Sherrod’s March speech to an N.A.A.C.P. gathering in Douglas, Ga., shows that it was a consciousness-raising story. Ms. Sherrod’s father was murdered in 1965 by white men who were never indicted; she spoke about how in response, she vowed to stay in the South and work for change. She married the Rev. Charles Sherrod, a civil rights leader and co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Later, as director of a nonprofit group in Georgia formed to help black farmers, long before she went to work for the Agriculture Department, Ms. Sherrod received a request to help a white farm couple, Roger and Eloise Spooner, and she confessed in the speech that the request had given her pause. She did help them, however, and as the fracas over her firing became public this week, the Spooners came to her defense, saying Ms. Sherrod had gone out of her way to accompany them to see a lawyer and, in effect, had helped them save their farm.

“If we hadn’t have found her, we would have lost everything, I’m afraid,” Mrs. Spooner, 82, said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Obama has shied from making race relations a major theme of his presidency, yet somehow racially charged controversies keep cropping up — as was the case last year, when the president said the Cambridge, Mass., police had “acted stupidly” in arresting a black Harvard University professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr. The upshot of that was the White House “beer summit,” in which Mr. Gates and the white arresting officer shared some cold beverages with Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

In an interview Wednesday afternoon, shortly after Mr. Vilsack extended his public apology, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said Mr. Obama should hold another summit with Ms. Sherrod and the Spooners.

“In the end, it’s such a redemptive storybook ending,” said Mr. Jackson, who has known Charles Sherrod for decades. “I wish that Shirley Sherrod and the Spooner family could be invited to the White House and give them the credit that they’re due, because it is a great American story. A rural white family in Georgia and a black woman, overcoming years of segregation. It would be great if the president were to seize this moment.”

Read the full story here.

RELATED: Georgia Agriculture Department Offers Shirley Sherrod New Position

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