The White House apologized to Shirley Sherrod. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack offered her a new job. But after a whirlwind week, Sherrod says she needs to think about it.
It has been an emotional roller coaster ride for Sherrod, who until this week had been the Agriculture Department’s director of rural development for Georgia. First she was branded a racist by conservative pundits, then attacked by the NAACP for alleged racist remarks, followed by a demand for her immediate resignation from her bosses in Washington. On Wednesday there was finally an admission that she had been attacked falsely, followed by a plea from Vilsack — and the White House — for forgiveness.
“This is a good woman. She’s been through hell. … I could have done and should have done a better job,” Vilsack told reporters after he had talked to Sherrod by phone.
Sherrod accepted Vilsack’s apology.
But on Thursday she was still pondering whether to return to the Agriculture Department, where Vilsack said he is ready to offer her “a unique opportunity” for a new job.
The embarrassing series of events stemmed from remarks at an NAACP luncheon. She told of how her views on race had evolved from having decided arbitrarily not to help a white farmer 24 years ago as much as she could have, to later realizing that the farmer’s plight “opened my eyes” that whites were struggling as much as blacks and the issue was not race but poverty.
But the two-and-a-half-minute portion of her remarks that surfaced Monday on a conservative website dealt only with her early comments about the white farmer. When the entire speech was made public Tuesday, it became clear the accusations of racism were not warranted.
So a new job offer has been put on the table as the Obama administration hopes to keep the embarrassing events of this week from being more than a three-day distraction.
But will Sherrod want to return to the Agriculture Department?
“They did make an offer. I just told him I need to think about it,” said Sherrod in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
President Barack Obama said nothing publicly about the developments while administration officials tried to both show his concern and to distance him from the original ouster.
How much involvement was there from the White House? Was there White House pressure last Monday to push Sherrod out, when the snippet of remarks incorrectly suggested a racist bias?
“No,” insisted Vilsack. He said he made the decision without knowing all the facts and regretted it. “I am accepting the responsibility with deep regret,” Vilsack told a news conference.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs also insisted the decision was one made at the Agriculture Department and he denied White House pressure for Sherrod’s immediate resignation. He apologized to Sherrod “for the entire administration.”
The president had been briefed, Gibbs said, and “he talked about the fact that a disservice had been done, an injustice had happened and, because the facts had changed, a review of the decision based on those facts should be taken.”
Associated Press Writer Ben Feller contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press
Video: Sherrod’s full speech
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