EXCLUSIVE: Sherrod Unsure About Returning to USDA

11:27 AM, Jul 21, 2010   |    comments
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Shirley Sherrod

ATLANTA -- The Georgia woman at the center of a racially tinged firestorm involving the Obama administration and the NAACP says she's not certain she would take her USDA job back if it was offered to her.

Shirley Sherrod had been the Agriculture Department's rural director for Georgia before being asked to step down. She opened up to 11Alive's Karyn Greer in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

"We would need to talk," Sherrod said of the USDA. "I wouldn't want to go back and be harassed. I definitely wouldn't go back and do anything like I didn't do before to embarass this administration. I support the administration too much. And I also support fairness. I probably do that even more than Secretary Vilsack. He doesn't know what that means as much as I know what it mean based on my life."

Hours earlier, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he would reconsider the department's decision to oust Sherrod over accusations of racism.

They stem from a speech Sherrod gave at a local NAACP event in March. A conservative blogger posted a videotaped portion of the speech online last week, which Sherrod says was taken totally out of context.

"I used that incident -- and I've told that story over and over again -- to show people how I moved from a place where I was in thinking about white and black issues to a place where I am...a point where I can treat everyone the way I want to be treated," Sherrod told 11Alive News. "I think my life is a testimony to that."

Sherrod says she contacted the blogger as soon as she learned of the posting, telling him he was mistaken. "I explained to him in my reply what I was doing, and then I passed that right on to the [Agriculture] Department to say, "Hey, look at this. Look at what's happening." I didn't know what to do with it. I'd never been faced with anything like this before."

"I was totally in shock," she said of being put on administrative leave then being asked to resign. "I asked "What is going on?'" She says she was told: "'Well, the White House wants you to resign. When Glen Beck announced you were going to be on his show, that did it."

National NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous had initially welcomed Sherrod's resignation because the group opposes racism of all kinds. Sherrod says that hurt even more.

"You know I started in the civil rights movement," she said. "To spend my life working for the rights of all, and have an organziation like the NAACP condem me for a statement that they didn't take the time to look into -- that hurt. That hurt I think more than receiving that call saying "Shirley you need to submit your resignation.'"

She says she quickly accepted the civil rights group's apology when they learned the context of the video. The NAACP released a full video of Sherrod's speech on Wednesday.

"You have to know in 45 years of working in communities, there are bumps in the road, and I've aways jumped back," Sherrod said. "You know it's time to keep working."

Where she will continue working remains unknown.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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