USDA offers Sherrod civil rights job

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack apologized late Wednesday to former Georgia Director of Rural Development Shirley Sherrod for asking her to resign over racial comments without first learning the whole story, and offered her another position within USDA, the Associated Press reported.

Sherrod told AP she would consider the new opportunity. Earlier Wednesday, she had said she might not want her old job back, describing news USDA was reviewing the resignation request as "bittersweet." USDA asked her to step down earlier this week after a conservative group released a video clip of racial comments she made during a March NAACP speech. But Sherrod and others said the remarks were taken out of context.

Wednesday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed during a press conference that the White House contacted USDA Tuesday night and agreed a review of Sherrod's resignation should be conducted. Initially supportive of Vilsack's actions, President Obama favored reassessing the situation when new information came to light.

"Decisions were based upon an incomplete set of facts," Gibbs said. He offered an apology to Sherrod from the entire administration.

On Tuesday, NAACP President Ben Jealous formally retracted statements made Monday condemning Sherrod for her comments. During a CNN interview later that evening, NAACP Vice President for Advocacy and Policy Hilary Shelton said the organization apologized to Sherrod after examining the context surrounding her comments made at the organization's own banquet in March.

Shelton said he believes the original video clip was edited to depict Sherrod as a racist. Andrew Breitbart, publisher of BigGovernment.com -- the website responsible for first posting the video of Sherrod -- explained in his own CNN interview on Tuesday that he posted the clip in response to NAACP allegations of racism among members of the conservative Tea Party. "This was about the NAACP attacking the Tea Party, and this is showing racism at an NAACP event," Breitbart said. "I did not ask for Shirley Sherrod to be fired."

NAACP has since posted a video of the entre speech on its website, NAACP.org, and urged USDA to reevaluate Sherrod's resignation.

Sherrod's controversial statements involved a 1986 encounter with a white farmer in Georgia, whom she said she did not help as much as she could have because of his race. She went on to say, however, that she learned from the encounter.

"That's when it was revealed to me that it's about poor versus those who have, and not so much about white … it is about white and black, but it's not, you know…it opened my eyes," she said.

Sherrod told CNN she now considers the farmer from the story, Robert Spooner, a friend. "The point was to get them [banquet audience members] to understand that we need to look beyond race," she said.

Tuesday night, Spooner, 87, and his wife spoke to Anderson Cooper and Sherrod from their living room in Iron City, Ga. Spooner revealed his reactions to the incident, calling the backlash "hogwash."

"I haven't seen her in 20 years, but she was unbelievably helpful in every way," Spooner said. "She saved our farm. She was just as nice to us as anyone could have been. And as far as racism, it's just ridiculous."

Sherrod explained that she even went as far as to take Spooner and his wife to a second lawyer when the first did not do enough to help save the family's farm. The second lawyer filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy for Spooner, ultimately allowing the family to keep its property. In the interview, Sherrod said, "I've been promised their phone number." Speaking to Spooner and his wife, she added: "You all can expect a visit from me, hopefully this week, if not this week, it'll be real soon. I seem to have a lot of time to be able to do that."

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