by Frederick Cosby, BlackAmericaWeb.com
Shirley Sherrod politely turned down returning to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tuesday after she was forced out last month because of a video of a speech she gave that was edited out of context by a conservative blogger to incorrectly portray her as anti-white.
At a news conference with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Sherrod said too much has happened for her to accept one of two positions offered by Vilsack during a 90-minute meeting Tuesday.
However, Sherrod, 62, said she was open to working in a consulting capacity with the USDA after she takes “a break from some of all I’ve had to deal with over the last few weeks.”
Sherrod was thrust into the national spotlight when conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted – and Fox News pushed – a heavily-edited two-minute video clip of Sherrod delivering a speech at a March NAACP dinner in which she appeared to be talking about withholding help to poor white farmers because of their race.
In reality, Sherrod delivered an uplifting 45-minute address about overcoming her initial racial perceptions to help the impoverished white farmers keep their land. But the Breitbart clip did its damage: USDA officials, perhaps cognizant of the Obama administration’s skittishness on issues of race, hastily forced her to resign, a move that later proved embarrassing to the White House.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous blasted Sherrod based on the two-minute clip, only to apologize to her later after the NAACP found an unedited video of her speech.
Administration officials also found themselves apologizing to the wrongfully ousted Sherrod. Vilsack begged for her forgiveness. President Barack Obama followed up with a phone call to Sherrod, urging her to return to USDA.
Vilsack said, “I did my best to try to get her to come to USDA and stay at USDA on a full-time basis.”
Sherrod told CNN Tuesday that she turned down a position in the agency’s Office of Advocacy and Outreach because “there are still many questions around that position.”
“I just felt that taking the position at this time wouldn’t exactly be where I should be at this point,” she told CNN. “Everything that should’ve happened with that position hadn’t been made clear.”
She also rejected returning to her old job as the USDA’s director of rural development for Georgia.
“When you look at everything that has happened in the last four or five weeks, it makes it difficult to go back to that position,” she told CNN. “I feel that I could do more to address issues not as a full-time employee of USDA.”
But in nixing the jobs, Sherrod indicated that they were ill-defined positions or didn’t have enough power to address problems of race and discrimination that some civil rights activists say have been pervasive within the USDA for decades.
The agency, for example settled a discrimination suit brought nearly a decade ago by black farmers. But the farmers have yet to see a dime because the Senate earlier this month failed to approve the nearly billion-dollar settlement.
“The Secretary did push really, really hard for me to stay and work from the inside in the position,” Sherrod said. “I know he’s apologized, and I accept that. I just – and a new process is in place, and I hope it works. I don’t want to be the one to test it.”
In the weeks since the controversy exploded, Sherrod has delivered a speech with the NAACP’s Jealous and spoke at the National Association of Black Journalists’ convention in San Diego.
Though she shut the door on full-time work at USDA, Sherrod and Vilsack left the door open to her working with the department on a consulting basis. Sherrod said she also intends to be active in fighting for civil rights and becoming a voice in combating discrimination nationwide.
“I’ve had many, many requests from around the country from people who want to hear from me,” Sherrod said. “I like to hear about efforts that are being made in communities that are dealing with the issue of racism and discrimination, and I really like to highlight them because I know there are people out there who care, who want to work on the issues … and I think we need more of that.”
She added: “You know, we’re a great country, and there are people who care. We’re hearing too much from those who would want to point out the negative right now, and I really would like to concentrate on the positive.”
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