Former Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod, who was forced to resign after a blogger posted comments she made to an NAACP audience about race, is unsure about returning to a government job, she said Friday.
President Barack Obama told Sherrod he regretted her forced resignation and asked her to consider coming back. He also said in a nationally broadcast network interview he believes Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack “jumped the gun” in sacking her after just a few months with the USDA.
She’s not so sure about returning to government work but would like to talk more with Obama about promoting togetherness across the country.
“I don’t want to be the fall guy, the fall girl, for discrimination in the Department of Agriculture,” Sherrod told The Associated Press at her southern Georgia home. “I need a little down time to reflect on what’s happened the last few days. Is there another place for me to help all of us take advantage of what has happened over the last few days? I don’t know yet.”
For his part, Obama has ordered a more patient, deliberative style of governance from his aides and Cabinet members after the convulsive week surrounding Sherrod’s ouster.
Sherrod, 62, said she’d like to persuade Obama to visit south Georgia.
“I need to get him down here with some regular folks to see how they live and how they get along,” Sherrod said. “It might give him a better understanding on how to promote togetherness in this country.”
A furor erupted this week over a conservative blogger’s posting of portions of a speech Sherrod gave in which she told of giving short shrift attention 24 years ago to the pleas for financial aid by a poor white farmer. Sherrod is black, and the operator of the website BigGovernment.com posted a portion of her speech. The blogger, Andrew Breitbart, said he did so to illustrate racism within the NAACP, which earlier accused the tea party of having racist elements.
It dramatized how the nation’s first black president has occasionally struggled with racial tensions since he took office over a year and a half ago, after saying repeatedly during his campaign that he wanted to bridge America’s racial divide.
“One of the things I shared with Ms. Sherrod was the fact that the stories that she was telling about her own biases and overcoming them, those were actually good lessons for all of us to learn, because we all have our own biases,” Obama told ABC in an interview. “I wrote this in my own book.”
“We should acknowledge the enormous progress that we’ve made since the time Shirley Sherrod was a child in the Jim Crow South,” he said. “I’m sitting here as a testament to this myself, as president.”
Sherrod argued repeatedly that the Internet posting took her speech out of context, and that the talk actually was about racial reconciliation. She said Friday she has helped a number of white farmers get help.
The White House on Thursday morning played a one-way game of telephone tag with the fired Sherrod, even as she hop-scotched from network to network saying it was time she heard from Obama.
When the president finally reached her, he passed along “his regrets” for her horrible week, the White House said, and urged her to accept Vilsack’s offer to return to his department.
“I didn’t feel he needed to apologize,” Sherrod told AP. “I did want him to call me though.”
Obama, according to spokesman Robert Gibbs, urged Sherrod to transform “this misfortune” into a chance to use her life experiences to help people.
“If in any way, what I’ve gone through can help move people in this country to a better understanding of each other, I’m willing to do that,” she said.
Obama had avoided direct involvement in the public spectacle that accompanied Sherrod’s ouster. Once it became clear that the speech in question was advocating racial accommodation, not confrontation, Secretary Vilsack apologized to her and offered her a new job. Gibbs also apologized publicly “for the entire administration.”
In an excerpt of an ABC News interview broadcast Thursday night, Obama said Vilsack had been too hasty in pushing Sherrod out.
“He jumped the gun, partly because we now live in this media culture where something goes up on YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles,” Obama said.
The president said he has instructed “my team” to make sure “that we’re focusing on doing the right thing instead of what looks to be politically necessary at that very moment. We have to take our time and think these issues through.”
Sherrod repeatedly denied that her comments carried on the Internet were racist, and the NAACP — which had at first condemned her remarks, then later apologized — posted the full 43-minute video showing the entire speech. The farmer in question also did interviews and said Sherrod had eventually helped him save his farm.
Sherrod said she is weighing an invitation to attend a convention next week in San Diego where she could possibly confront the blogger.
“He was willing to destroy me … in order to try to destroy the NAACP,” adding that she might consider suing Breitbart for defamation.
“I don’t mind talking to him face to face,” she said. “I’d like to ask him, ‘why?’ I’m all for doing the right thing.”
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press