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Georgia Civil Rights Legend Says Tom Vilsack 'Has Something To Prove' To Black Farmers

Shirley Sherrod forgave Tom Vilsack when he apologized for wrongly firing her 10 years ago. Now she requires better of him in his second term as Secretary of Agriculture under Joe Biden.

Two nights ago I wrote a post arguing that Joe Biden should withdraw Tom Vilsack as his pick for Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. Today I'm eating my words.

When Shirley Sherrod, the Georgia civil rights leader who was egregiously wronged by Tom Vilsack during his tenure with the Obama administration, appears on Joy Reid's show to argue that Vilsack should be given the opportunity to do it right this time around, I listen and defer.

After giving background on Sherrod's place in Georgia's agricultural history, and the Breitbart-created scandal on which Vilsack based her firing those years ago, Joy Reid asked her how she felt about the prospect of Vilsack returning as head of the USDA.

SHERROD: First of all, thanks for having me on. My position is that we certainly need someone who knows the lay out of and programs of the agency. Vilsack has been there. He didn't do all that he should have done during the fist time around. I feel that we should give him the opportunity to get it right this time. There should be no excuse, no excuse whatsoever. He doesn't have a learning curve. He knows the department. He knows what he has to do and I do think he has something to prove to us.

REID: Has he ever personally apologized to you. One-on-one, and spokeN about what happened back then?

SHERROD: Yes, he did. In fact, about three days after that was in the news, he actually apologized. He called me and apologized, and he went on the air to to do so.

Reid asked her what Black farmers need from the Department of Agriculture, and what the department needs to do differently to help make up for the long-standing discrimination the USDA has shown Black farmers. Sherrod was specific and clear about the results she and others expected to see from Vilsack and Biden, given especially the fact that Black women were instrumental in delivering Biden's win.

SHERROD: We can go way back to the beginning. Our people being able to access programs in the agency. There was always discrimination. We had lots of land, and a lot of it was lost because of that discrimination at the USDA. I think that Vilsack and others really need to come up with special programs to assist Black farmers with being able together to gain, and I guess I shouldn't say it that way, I'm not exactly saying reparations, but something's got to be done because of what has been done to us. We need to be able to get some of that land back. We need to be able to access loans, and other programs through the agency, and be treated fairly. Things would have been great if we had just been treated fairly. We've never been treated fairly with that department. And I feel that Vilsack, Biden — Biden wouldn't be president-elect if it were not for Black people. So I think it's time for them to show us that they hear us, and they want to do better by us, in terms of the programs through USDA.

Reid was understandably still slightly skeptical about the choice, as she was on Thursday night, and asked Sherrod again if perhaps the choice of Vilsack showed a lack of respect for the Black community who elected Biden, and wondered if Biden's team had reached out to her about it. Sherrod said she hadn't heard from the Biden team about it, but she said this about when she spoke to Vilsack years ago:

SHERROD: I have talked to Vilsack. You know, when I said -- when I told him, it was ten years ago, that I accept your apology, I meant that. I was ready to move on. I need to see they are ready to move on with us.

In other words, you have very generously been given another chance, Tom Vilsack and Joe Biden. Don't screw it up. Show results, and make things right.

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