There’s a job waiting for Shirley Sherrod at the Agriculture Department, if she wants it.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that he apologized by telephone to Mrs. Sherrod on Wednesday and offered her a job within the department, a day after she was pressured to resign after a videotape showed her making what were incorrectly perceived as racist comments.
“I started off by extending to her my personal and profound apology for the pain and discomfort that has been caused to her and her family over the course of the last several days,” said Mr. Vilsack at Wednesday’s hastily called press conference as he described his conversation with Mrs. Sherrod.
He asked her to consider a “unique opportunity” that would take advantage of her years of experience within the department and with rural communities. He said that Mrs. Sherrod told him she would need a few days to think about whether she wanted to accept the offer.
“She has an extraordinary history of helping individuals in trouble and of course she has gone through a very difficult period in the last couple of days,” said Mr. Vilsack.
He insisted that the decision to ask for her resignation was his alone and that “there was no pressure from the White House.”
“This was my decision and it’s a decision I regret having made in haste,” said Mr. Vilsack. As a result, he said, “a good woman has gone
through a difficult period and I’ll have to live with that for a very long time.”
Mr. Vilsack’s apology and job offer came about an hour after the White House apologized to Mrs. Sherrod. Both the White House and the Agriculture Department have said they will review the entire episode to figure out what went wrong.
“I think everybody has to go back and look at what has happened over the past 24 to 36 hours, and ask ourselves how we got into this. How did we not ask the right questions?” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
The USDA’s director of rural development in Georgia, Mrs. Sherrod was forced out after conservative bloggers posted a videotape Monday of her telling an NAACP group that she once held back on offering aid to a white farmer because of his race.
It turns out the incident occurred 24 years ago, and that at the end of the tape, she tells the crowd that she was wrong to have done so because it’s not about “white and black,” but “it’s about poor versus those who have.”
Mrs. Sherrod, who was working for a non-profit farm aid group at the time, did ultimately assist the family. The wife of the farmer, Eloise Spooner, praised Mrs. Sherrod Tuesday for helping save the farm.
The episode came as the latest salvo in a scuffle over race that began last week when the NAACP condemned the Tea Party movement for its “racist elements and activities.” Tea Party officials have denied that they tolerate racism.
The Obama administration has come under fire for dropping its prosecution of the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation in the 2008 election. One former Justice Department official has said the decision was based on race.
Mrs. Sherrod told CNN-TV that a USDA official phoned her repeatedly as she was driving to her office Monday, insisting that she tender her resignation.
“Why am I out? They asked me to resign,” Mrs. Sherrod told CNN’s Tony Harris Tuesday. “And, in fact, they harassed me as I was driving back to the state office from West Point, Georgia, yesterday. I had at least three calls telling me the White House wanted me to resign.”
She added that the official told her, “‘Well, Shirley, they want you to pull over to the side of the road and do it because you’re going to be on Glenn Beck tonight.’”
Mrs. Sherrod was referring to conservative commentator Glenn Beck, who has a show on FOX News. His Tuesday show did indeed feature the Sherrod story, only Mr. Beck, instead of calling for her to step down, called on the Obama administration to “give her back her job.”
“Something is definitely wrong here. Yes, the Obama administration has a history of acting without all the facts,” said Mr. Beck.
NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous, after saying he was “appalled” by Mrs. Sherrod’s actions in a Tuesday statement, released a second statement later that day saying that the organization had been “snookered by Fox News and Tea Party activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias.”
The NAACP also posted the full video on its website. Mrs. Sherrod’s speech came before a banquet given by the NAACP’s Georgia branch.