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Sherrod declines offer to return to USDA

The Agriculture Department official ousted during a racial firestorm last month has declined to accept an invitation to return to fulltime work at the agency.
Image: Shirley Sherrod
Shirley Sherrod was forced to resign after a conservative blogger posted snippets of a March speech in which she appeared to make racist remarks.Mike Blake / Reuters file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Shirley Sherrod, the Agriculture Department official ousted during a racial firestorm last month, declined Tuesday to return to the agency, though she said it was tempting.

Sherrod and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that she might work with the agency in a consulting capacity in the future to help it improve its outreach to minorities.

She told reporters she did not think she could say yes to a job "at this point, with all that has happened."

"I look forward to some type of relationship with the department in the future," she said. "We do need to work on the issues of discrimination and race in this country."

Vilsack, who apologized to Sherrod for pushing her out, had offered her a position in the Office of Advocacy and Outreach, which works in the civil rights area.

"I think I can be helpful to him and the department if I just take a little break and look at how I can be more helpful in the future," Sherrod said.

Vilsack said that "Shirley has unique opportunities here."

Vilsack said he had worked hard to get Sherrod to return.  Before Tuesday's meeting, Sherrod had appeared reluctant to accept Vilsack's offer of a new job, but had kept quiet about her plans.

Racism and racial healing
Formerly the agency's director of rural development in Georgia, the department forced her resignation after a conservative blogger posted excerpts of a March speech in which she appeared to make racist remarks.

Vilsack and others, including the NAACP, condemned the remarks before grasping the full context of the story, which was meant as a lesson in racial healing.

The farmer at the center of the story also came forward after she resigned, saying Sherrod helped save his farm.

The incident proved embarrassing for the Obama administration, and the White House and the NAACP have since apologized.

Sherrod said last month that she plans to sue the blogger, Andrew Breitbart, saying at the time that he took her comments out of context and that "he had to know that he was targeting me."

Breitbart has said he posted the video to illustrate racism within the NAACP, which earlier accused the tea party of having racist elements.