Farmer's wife defends Shirley Sherrod: Eloise Spooner takes questions

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Amid growing pressure, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the USDA will reconsider its decision to ask an employee to resign over racially tinged remarks she made at an NAACP banquet.

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Eloise Spooner
Wife of farmer Roger Spooner, Iron City, Ga.
Thursday, July 22, 2010; 2:00 PM

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President Obama has expressed his "regret" to former U.S. Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod over her ouster, the White House said Thursday. The president reached Sherrod around 12:35 p.m. ET and "emphasized that Secretary Vilsack was sincere in his apology yesterday, and in his work to rid USDA of discrimination," the White House said Thursday.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday he had offered to rehire fired department official Shirley Sherrod, and the White House offered a full-throated apology to her, calling her ouster the result of an out-of-context video an "injustice."

In that video Sherrod, the former USDA director of rural development for Georgia, seems to tell an audience at an NAACP function in March that she did not do her utmost to help a white farmer avoid foreclosure. But her story was part of an ongoing narrative of self-revelation when she realized that the important thing was to help the poor and not a racial issue. However, this latter part of the tape was not included in the original posting. That farmer she spoke of was Roger Spooner of Iron City, Ga.

Roger Spooner's wife Eloise was online Thursday, July 22, at 2 p.m. ET to tell their story of how Shirley Sherrod helped them save the family farm.

READ MORE:

Howard Kurtz - Finger-pointing at Fox in Shirley Sherrod firing

Federal Eye - Shirley Sherrod wants to talk to President Obama

The Obama team's image of steely resolve gets a bit tarnished

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Eloise Spooner: We've got four semis and my husband Roger is driving a Peterbilt with our sons, David and Dennis, the twins, and our grandson Jake ... they're all hauling fertilizer today to different farms. We haul for a big company up in Colquitt, Ga., and Donaldsonville, Ga. So I'll be doing the interview.

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Burbank, Calif.: Thank you for agreeing to take questions. Let me please let this open-ended: What do you most want the public to know about the situation that has brought you into national news attention?

Eloise Spooner: Shirley helped us when we really needed help and when we listened to the tape we felt we really wanted to help her. It started Tuesday morning. Our son came up here and said mother turn on the TV at CNN, your friend Shirley is on and we did and we listened and we knew instantly that it was us they were talking about.

So we listened and me and Roger looked at each other and we said to each other that she helped us when we really needed help and we were gonna try to help her.

And then my son, he called CNN and told them that we were the couple they were talking about and if they wanted to talk to us he gave them our telelphone number.

Roger had two loads to haul so after all that he said he had to go on out and then our telephone started ringing and ringing and ringing.

We get this little paper from Atlanta, the Market Bulletin, and it had a little note in there that said if you were having trouble and about to lose your farm that they had a toll-free number. So I decided to call and the man on the phone told us to go to this lawyer in Cairo and we did and he knew the woman who was in charge of the FHA.

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Eloise Spooner: So he said you might as well go ahead and do what Diane suggested (the FHA supervisor) which was to start packing up the farm. I was so mad when we were driving home. Then in about a few weeks, a man called to see what you we had done. He didn't do one thing for us. He said I'm gonna give you one more number for someone who could help you. That number was Shirley Sherrod. So we talked to her and we went up there to Albany, Ga. She said we've got two lawyers: one is a black lawyer and his name was Black and the other was Dan Easterlin in Americus, Ga.

We said we'd just try this one in Albany. So we went to see him and we had to scrape up some money. We went to him for six months. But he wasn't getting anything accomplished.

After about six months, he said he couldn't help us on our case, that he had another client. I called Shirley and told her and she asked me if she wanted us to call the other one. She asked us if wewanted her to go with us and we told her yes. She went up there two or three times.

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Eloise Spooner: We told Mr. Easterlin that we had some rough nights and couldn't sleep because we were worried and Mr. Easterlin told us to go home and get a good night's sleep and he'd take care of that. He managed to get us a Chapter 11 and we got that all settled. Then it began to level off, everything got better.

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Eloise Spooner: That was just about two weeks before they were gonna sell our farm up at the courthouse. He got the Chapter 11 to stop it and Shirley Sherrod arranged it all and got it going. We would have lost everyting if it hadn't been for Shirley.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Hi Mr. and Mrs Spooner,

I was raised in south Georgia and understand the struggles farmers go through every day. Do you think people from cities have any idea the struggles of rural America (black and white), particularly farmers, to make ends meet every day? I say this because so many times the media focuses its attention on the struggles of people living in cities.

Thanks for every thing you do.

Eloise Spooner: They need to visit the farmers and see how they have to work and worry and everythning. You gotta love it to want to stay in farming.

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Maryland, Md.: When you first met Shirley Sherrod it's been reported that she thought you were showing her that you're superior to her. Is that what you were doing?

Eloise Spooner: That's what the tape said but he's (Roger) really not. You just have to get to know him. He's hard of hearing and he talks loud. After she got to know him, she changed her mind, I think.

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Arlington, VA: First, thank you so much for stepping forward to tell your side of the story -- were you surprised at all the news coverage given this happened so long ago?

Eloise Spooner: I had packed up all of our papers and I thought I'm putting these away, I'll just have them here, I'm not gonna need 'em, and then all this broke out.

We've had so many people call us telling us that they were glad we stepped up to speak up for Shirley and tell people what kind of person she was. They said they didn't think Shirley had helped us like she should have but anyway, she did enough for us in that she got us in touch with Ben Easterlin and saved our farm.

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Orlando, Fla.: Do you feel that the rush to judgment resulting in Ms. Shirley Sherrod's firing was but another example of the out of control "political correctness" afflicting America today?

Eloise Spooner: She was driving home and they called her on her cell phone -- and you're not supposed to be talking on your cell phone while you're driving -- three times, they called her and told her that Washington was wanting her to resign. She wasn't treated right. They finally told her to pull over and type up her resignation. I wouldn't have done anybody that way.

I never dreamed that it would be like this. One reporter I heard said something about us wanting our 15 minutes of fame. Let me tell you something, I would do the same thing again to help Shirley.

They didn't have the whole story; they just got parts of the story.

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Gray, Germany: Mr. and Mrs. Spooner, based on your personal experience, do you think that family businesses have a future in agriculture nowadays? What would you like Congress or the president to do to give farms like yours a better chance in the competition with the big corporations?

Eloise Spooner: You have to have a lot of land to be able to have a voice really. I have heard where a lot of times if you're a big, big farm you get deals. But just a farmer trying to make a living, they have to pay more than if you've got a bunch of land.

I hope the government or somebody does something someday soon so the little guy can make a living this way. We don't farm; we rent our land out. Roger was in the Navy and he was on the Yorktown that sunk in WW II and then he went in the submarine division and then when he got home he started farming. We farmed until about 1981 or '82 and then Roger started renting it out.

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Washington, D.C.: Hello Roger and Eloise, I believe most people's views on race have changed in the last twenty or so years, my question -- Are your views on race the same as they were doing the time you were about to lose your farm?

Eloise Spooner: Roger was raised on a farm larger than the one we have and they had black people who were paid to farm with them and they had children and all of them worked together. They all got along, they were friends for life. As they got older and some still lived on the farm some of the Spooners would take them to the doctor when they needed to go.

Roger never meets a stranger. Before any time has pased, they're talking like they've known each other.

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Mt. Holly Springs, Penn.: Were the Spooner's aware that Mrs. Sherrod's father (Hosie Miller) had been killed by a white man, and did she (Shirley) ever speak about it to them?

Eloise Spooner: She never told us about it. We heard it on TV.

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Lawrenceburg, Tenn.: Mrs. Spooner, were you surprised at how the short tape showed Ms. Sherrod? What would you like to say to those that presented the shortened tape?

Eloise Spooner: They didn't have the whole story there. You can't much blame her, somebody killing her daddy ... she did have a lot to overcome. I don't know what their purpose was in doing that but it harmed her. It shouldn't have been treated that way. It wasn't the whole story.

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Steel City, Pa: How many acres are you farming?

Eloise Spooner: Here where we live a mile and a half out of Iron City and about five miles from the farm Roger was raised on ... it's 100 acres or so here and 400 or so down the road about five miles. In the neighborhood of 500 acres.

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Kanab, Utah: Do you pay much attention to news? What do you think about the quality of the news media?

Eloise Spooner: I watch some of it sometimes, yes, it's according to what it's about. Most evenings we watch it together. Too many commercials.

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Washington, D.C.: No question, just thanks for stepping up. I'm bothered by the administration's willingness to jump the gun, downright angry at the media for both latching onto the edited video and then later pretending they had nothing to do with the scandal, and frustrated that anyone still takes this Breitbart guy seriously. So it's refreshing to see you standing up and cutting through all of that with the truth.

Eloise Spooner: The reason we got involved in it was to help Shirley. That's just about it.

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Eloise Spooner: I just wish the world would get better for everybody.

Shirley called me today and told me she talked to the president. She wanted to come over tomorrow but we're gonna be busy; Roger's got to go to the doctor and then Saturday we've got a funeral. Sunday she's gonna call me and we'll decide then when we can get together. We didn't talk a long time. She said I know you're like me and we're both tired. She said it would be good to sleep in her own bed tonight.

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washingtonpost.com: This concludes our discussion with Eloise Spooner. Thank you for joining in.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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