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Ousted USDA official unsure about returning to work

Associated Press | 7/27/2010, 7:07 p.m.

ALBANY, Ga. - Former Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod, who was forced to resign after a blogger posted comments she made to an NAACP audience about race, is unsure about returning to a government job, she said last week.

President Barack Obama told Sherrod he regretted her forced resignation and asked her to consider coming back. He also said in a nationally broadcast network interview he believes Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack “jumped the gun” in sacking her after just a few months with the USDA.

She’s not so sure about returning to government work but would like to talk more with Obama about promoting togetherness across the country.

“I don’t want to be the fall guy, the fall girl, for discrimination in the Department of Agriculture,” Sherrod told The Associated Press at her southern Georgia home. “I need a little down time to reflect on what’s happened the last few days. Is there another place for me to help all of us take advantage of what has happened over the last few days? I don't know yet.”

For his part, Obama has ordered a more patient, deliberative style of governance from his aides and Cabinet members after the convulsive week surrounding Sherrod’s ouster.

Sherrod, 62, said she’d like to persuade Obama to visit south Georgia.

“I need to get him down here with some regular folks to see how they live and how they get along,” Sherrod said. “It might give him a better understanding on how to promote togetherness in this country.”

A furor erupted this week over a conservative blogger’s posting of portions of a speech Sherrod gave in which she told of giving short shrift attention 24 years ago to the pleas for financial aid by a poor white farmer.

Sherrod is black, and the operator of the website BigGovernment.com posted a portion of her speech. The blogger, Andrew Breitbart, said he did so to illustrate racism within the NAACP, which earlier accused the tea party of having racist elements.

It dramatized how the nation’s first black president has occasionally struggled with racial tensions since he took office over a year and a half ago, after saying repeatedly during his campaign that he wanted to bridge America’s racial divide.

“One of the things I shared with Ms. Sherrod was the fact that the stories that she was telling about her own biases and overcoming them, those were actually good lessons for all of us to learn, because we all have our own biases,” Obama told ABC in an interview. “I wrote this in my own book.”

“We should acknowledge the enormous progress that we’ve made since the time Shirley Sherrod was a child in the Jim Crow South,” he said. “I’m sitting here as a testament to this myself, as president.”

Sherrod argued repeatedly that the Internet posting took her speech out of context, and that the talk actually was about racial reconciliation. She said Friday she has helped a number of white farmers get help.

The White House on last Thursday morning played a one-way game of telephone tag with the fired Sherrod, even as she hop-scotched from network to network saying it was time she heard from Obama.