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Shirley Sherrod, Ousted USDA Official, Defended by Farmer She Helped, Others

4 years ago
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A Georgia farmer is defending against charges of racism an ousted Agriculture Department employee who helped him file for bankruptcy. The NAACP and a conservative blogger have also come to her defense.

Roger Spooner told CNN he credits Shirley Sherrod, who resigned Monday as the USDA's director of rural development for Georgia, with helping his family save their farm. Spooner, who is white, said he can't understand accusations that Sherrod is racist.

"I don't know what brought up the racist mess," Roger Spooner told CNN. "They just want to stir up some trouble, it sounds to me in my opinion."

Sherrod, who is black, assisted Spooner and his wife in working with a lawyer to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which ultimately kept their farm afloat, he said. "If it hadn't been for her, we would've never known who to see or what to do," Spooner said. "She led us right to our success."

Roger SpoonerSherrod made headlines Tuesday morning after a video clip surfaced from a speech she made in March to an NAACP forum recounting her meeting with a struggling white farmer who came to her for help in 1986.

"Here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land," Sherrod said about her feelings 24 years ago. "So, I didn't give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough so that when he (went to state or federal officials) he needed to go back and report that I did try to help him."

Sherrod told CNN on Tuesday that the clip was taken out of context. She said she described the decades-old incident with the white farmer because she has since come to realize her mistake. "Working with him helped me realize the issue is not about race, it's about those who have and those who have not," she said. Sherrod said she went on to develop a friendship with him and his wife and did all she could to help them.

Spooner's wife told CNN she remembered Sherrod as "nice-mannered, thoughtful, friendly, a good person."

Eloise Spooner said that when she heard about Sherrod's resignation, "I said: 'That ain't right. They have not treated her right.' "

Sherrod claimed the White House forced her to resign but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told CNN that he "didn't speak to anyone at the White House. ... I made this decision; it's my decision. Nobody from the White House contacted me about this at all."

Meanwhile, the NAACP issued a statement on the controversy, saying in part: "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."

And, at the prominent conservative blog RedState, Erick Erickson spoke out in defense of Sherrod. "I think Shirley Sherrod has been unfairly characterized as a racist," he wrote.

Watch Roger and Eloise Spooner:

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