WASHINGTON — A former Agriculture Department employee who was shown in an edited video making what appeared to be racist remarks has sued the conservative blogger who posted the video that led to her dismissal.
Shirley Sherrod said Monday that she is “still reeling” after she was ousted in a racial firestorm in July. USDA officials asked Sherrod to resign after blogger Andrew Breitbart posted an edited video of comments she had made in a speech. Sherrod, who is black, appeared in the video to be saying she was reluctant to help a white farmer, but the parts that were cut revealed she was not.
She later received numerous apologies from the administration, including from President Barack Obama, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked her to return. She declined the offer, but said at the time she might do some contract work with the department.
Sherrod referred questions about the lawsuit to her lawyer, who did not immediately return a call for comment. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
Sherrod said she is still looking for work, and has not received any offers from USDA.
“I’m not employed and no one’s offered me a job anywhere, so I don’t know where to look at this point,” she said in a telephone interview. “I’m just trying to survive.”
A statement on Breitbart’s website said he was sued but did not mention Sherrod by name. The statement said he is “confident of being fully vindicated.”
“Mr. Breitbart categorically rejects the transparent effort to chill his constitutionally protected free speech,” the statement said.
Breitbart’s original posting showed clips of a March 2010 speech to an NAACP group in which Sherrod talked about her reluctance to help a white farmer who came to her for help more than two decades ago when she worked at a farm aid nonprofit group.
She said the man was acting “superior” to her and she debated whether to help him.
“I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland, and here I was faced with helping a white person save their land,” Sherrod said in the speech. “I didn’t give him the full force of what I could do.”
Breitbart said at the time that the video showed the NAACP condoning racist comments from a government official.
What was cut from the video was that Sherrod was telling a story of racial reconciliation, telling the audience how she eventually became friends with the farmer and helped him save his land from foreclosure. His situation, she said, “opened my eyes” that whites were struggling just like blacks, and helping farmers wasn’t so much about race but was “about the poor versus those who have.”
“We have to overcome the divisions that we have,” she said.