White House sorry for Shirley Sherrod 'racism' firing

Shirley Sherrod Shirley Sherrod accepted the White House apology

The White House has apologised to a black US official fired after a video appeared to show her making racially charged remarks about a white farmer.

Agriculture department official Shirley Sherrod was exonerated in the full video, which surfaced on Tuesday.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the apology reflected "the feelings" of President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has offered Mrs Sherrod a new position.

Mr Vilsack told reporters at a White House press conference that he accepted responsibility for the affair.

"I did not think before I acted and for that reason this poor woman has gone through a very difficult time," Mr Vilsack said.

Mr Vilsack said he had apologised to Mrs Sherrod, who had accepted his apology and "was extraordinarily gracious".

Mrs Sherrod told the Associated Press news agency she was considering the new position.

'Incomplete facts'

In the edited video clip, Mrs Sherrod appears to say that in 1986 she did not give a Georgia farmer all the assistance she could to save his farm because black farmers were losing their land and he was white.

Analysis

In Shirley Sherrod's bruising 24 hours at the heart of the frantic American news spin cycle, she found herself condemned by the black civil rights group which hosted the meeting where she spoke and then forced to resign by government officials who said they were acting on behalf of the White House.

No-one in government or in the civil rights movement bothered to ask what she'd actually said or ask for her side of the story.

If they had, they would have found in Shirley Sherrod a woman who had risen above personal tragedy to work for black and white farmers alike.

Whatever happens to Mrs Sherrod the case demonstrates that in Obama's America the issue of race isn't getting any less sensitive.

More importantly, it catches politicians in a moment of slavish and ill-considered over-reaction to the demands of the age of continuous news.

Mrs Sherrod said the video, first posted on a conservative website, lacked context and was part of a larger story about learning from her mistakes and racial reconciliation, not racism.

She also complained the department had fired her without listening to her explanation.

Mr Gibbs agrees the department acted in haste.

"Decisions were made based on an incomplete set of facts," he said.

Mrs Sherrod was videoed giving a speech in March at a dinner of a Georgia chapter of the NAACP, a prominent civil rights group.

The clip was picked up on by conservatives as evidence of anti-white racism in President Barack Obama's government and within the NAACP, an organisation seen as Democratic-leaning.

Mrs Sherrod was promptly sacked, her remarks condemned by the administration and the NAACP.

The video of Shirley Sherrod's full speech surfaced on Tuesday evening

'Backlash'

But the video of her full speech, which surfaced on Tuesday evening, shows her explaining she learned from the incident that poverty, not race, is the key factor in rural development. She also said she ultimately worked hard to save the farmer's land.

"Working with him made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who haven't," she told the NAACP in March.

"They could be black, they could be white, they could be Hispanic. And it made me realise then that I needed to help poor people - those who don't have access the way others have."

The NAACP said the organisation had been "duped" by conservative groups.

"We have come to the conclusion we were snookered... into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias," President Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement.

"It makes me feel better that the apology is finally coming," Mrs Sherrod said after the White House said sorry. "I accept their apology."

In interviews on Tuesday Mrs Sherrod complained that government officials would not heed her explanation and accused them of ousting her because they were afraid of a conservative media backlash.

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