Ousted Agriculture official spurns new federal job offer
Former federal official Shirley Sherrod, ousted from her job after a racial remark she made during a speech was taken out of context, turned down an offer to return full time to the Department of Agriculture on Tuesday, but said she would continue to speak out about racism and discrimination.
Sherrod said in a news conference with Agriculture Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack that she would work with the agency as a consultant at some point, but was not ready to come back full time.
“I need a little time to be able to deal with that, to sort of take a break from some of all that I’ve had to deal with over the last few weeks,” she said after meeting privately with Vilsack. “We do need to work on the issues of discrimination and racism in this country, and I certainly would like to play my role in trying to help deal with it.”
Sherrod was removed last month from her post as the Agriculture Department’s director of rural development in Georgia after conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted a short clip of a speech Sherrod gave that inaccurately suggested she had made racist remarks. Sherrod confirmed her plans to sue Breitbart at the news conference Tuesday.
After the initial footage caused an uproar among conservatives, Obama administration officials and the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People criticized Sherrod, and Vilsack forced her to resign before she could explain herself.
When her comments were published in context shortly afterward, Vilsack and President Obama apologized to Sherrod.
Vilsack said he gave Sherrod a “hard sell” to rejoin the department in a meeting at USDA headquarters Tuesday. She was given the option of taking a new position in Washington addressing the agency’s history of racial discrimination or returning to her post as a state director.
Vilsack again took responsibility for Sherrod’s dismissal and said the USDA was considering reforms in light of the incident.
“I know he’s apologized, and I accept that,” Sherrod said. “He said a new process is in place, and I hope that it works. I don’t want to be the one to test it.”
Vilsack expressed regret that she turned down the offer to return full time, but said it might advance her larger plans.
“Maybe, just maybe, this is an opportunity for the country to have the kind of conversation that Shirley thinks we ought to have,” he said.
Sherrod said she planned to use her time away from the USDA to respond to many of the thousands of letters she has received. But she will not keep quiet about the issues of importance to her.