USDA Reconsiders Decision to Oust Official Over Race Comments

WASHINGTON -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday he will reconsider the department's decision to oust a state program director over racially tinged remarks after learning more about what she said.

Vilsack issued a short statement early Wednesday morning after Shirley Sherrod, who until Tuesday was the Agriculture Department's director of rural development in Georgia, said she was pressured to resign because of her comments that she didn't give a white farmer as much help as she could have 24 years ago.

Sherrod said her remarks, delivered in March at a local NAACP banquet in Georgia, were part of a larger story about learning from her mistakes and racial reconciliation, not racism, and they were taken out of context by an edited video posted Monday that showed only part of her speech.

Vilsack's statement came after the NAACP, which initially condemned Sherrod's remarks and supported her ouster, posted what was believed to be the full video of Sherrod's comments Tuesday night.

Click here to watch the video.

"I am of course willing and will conduct a thorough review and consider additional facts to ensure to the American people we are providing services in a fair and equitable manner," Vilsack said.

A White House official on Wednesday said the White House initiated the conversation with the USDA about revisiting the decision.

"The White House called USDA last night and agreed that the matter should be reviewed," the official said.

That was after an official on Tuesday said Obama was briefed on the circumstances behind Vilsack's decision to fire Sherrod after the fact and fully supported the move.

Vilsack announced Monday night that Sherrod had resigned based on the release of the shorter video, saying the department has "zero tolerance for discrimination."

Sherrod said in an interview Wednesday morning that she's not sure she even wants her job back given how she was treated.

But subsequent news reports in which Sherrod explained the full context of her remarks -- later substantiated by the wife of the white farmer in an interview with -- sparked growing calls for the administration and Vilsack to reconsider the decision.

In the earlier version of the video Sherrod, then Georgia director of rural development, is seen telling a story about assistance she provided to a white farmer 24 years ago.

The video released by the NAACP on Tuesday night shows Sherrod explaining how she initially didn't help the farmer with "full force," but realized she was wrong and went on to help him save his farm.

Sherrod, who is black and was working at the time for a nonprofit group, said she learned that the plight of poverty goes beyond race.

"When I made that commitment I was making that commitment to black people and to black people only," she said in the video released Tuesday. "But you know, God will show you things. ... You realize that the struggle is really about poor people."

The video excerpt published Monday online by the website, which is run by Andrew Breitbart, focused on Sherrod's admission that she was reluctant to help the white farmer in part because so many black farmers were suffering.

The Monday excerpt excluded the end of Sherrod's story, seen Tuesday, in which she talks of helping save the white farmer's property from foreclosure.

"Working with him made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who don't," she said later in the video. "And they could be black, they could be white, they could be Hispanic -- it made me realize that I needed to help poor people."

NAACP CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous originally released a statement calling Sherrod's comments "shameful" and saying the group was "appalled by her actions." But the NAACP later said Tuesday it would conduct an "investigation" and review the full tape, which was shot for the NAACP by media company DCTV.

Late Tuesday, Jealous effectively retracted his earlier statement and blamed the media for the confusion.

"With regard to the initial media coverage of the resignation of USDA official Shirley Sherrod, we have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias," he said.

"Having reviewed the full tape, spoken to Ms. Sherrod, and most importantly heard the testimony of the white farmers mentioned in this story, we now believe the organization that edited the documents did so with the intention of deceiving millions of Americans." was among several media organizations that carried the story of the initial video released Monday.

It remains unclear who edited and released the shorter video.

Breitbart, who initially reported the story on Monday, said in an interview Tuesday with Fox News' Sean Hannity, that he received the video from "an individual in Georgia." He said he decided to post it on his website as an example of hypocrisy at the NAACP, which recently condemned racism within the conservative Tea Party movement.

Sherrod, in a TV interview Tuesday morning, said she lost her job because the Obama administration overreacted to the original story.

"They were not interested in hearing the truth. No one wanted to hear the truth," she said.

As for the white farmer Sherrod helped, his wife told on Tuesday that there was no discrimination. She said the administration should not have forced out Sherrod. "She'll always be my friend," Eloise Spooner said.

She said the incident Sherrod was referring to happened more than two decades ago and that she and her husband Roger worked together closely to keep the farm out of foreclosure.

"I don't think they gave her a chance to tell really what happened," Spooner said. "I don't think they'll find anybody that can fill the job any better than she did. That's my opinion."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.