BREAKING NEWS: The White House has scheduled a press conference on the USDA scandal at 11 a.m. Pacific Time. Click here for the live broadcast, which is starting late The press conference has concluded, check back for an update on this story.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The woman at the center of a racially tinged firestorm involving the Obama administration and the NAACP said Wednesday she doesn't know if she'd return to her job at the Agriculture Department, even if asked.
"I am just not sure how I would be treated there," Shirley Sherrod said in a nationally broadcast interview. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday he would reconsider the department's decision to oust Sherrod over her comments that she didn't give a white farmer as much help as she could have 24 years ago.
She said later in a broadcast interview that she might consider returning if she had the chance, saying she's received encouraging calls, including one from the NAACP.
Watch the full video of Sherrod's speech posted by the NAACP
The White House called the Agriculture Department Tuesday night after more information about Sherrod's remarks emerged, a White House official said. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the call, said the White House and the department agreed that the case should be reviewed based on the new evidence.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson called on the administration Wednesday to apologize for Sherrod's treatment, saying he had talked to Vilsack Tuesday night before the secretary said he'd take another look at her ouster.
He said the case is even "more egregious" than last year's controversy over the arrest of a black Harvard scholar outside his home. In that case, President Barack Obama brokered a discussion during a White House "beer summit" with Henry Louis Gates Jr., who said he was racially profiled, and white officer Sgt. James Crowley, who arrested him.
"With each passing hour this case becomes more intense, and just as the president moved quickly on the Gates-Crowley case he should move quickly on this case," Jackson said. "The politics of fear cannot overwhelm the politics of truth, and she has truth on her side."
The incident is the latest in a series of race-related brouhahas that have garnered national attention since Obama took office as the nation's first black president.
A conservative website posted video of Sherrod's remarks, causing a furor which led to her condemnation by the NAACP and her ouster by Vilsack. Until Tuesday, she was the Agriculture Department's director of rural development in Georgia. Then, she said, she was pressured by superiors to resign.
Sherrod said her remarks, delivered in March at a local NAACP banquet in Georgia, were part of a larger story about learning from her mistakes and racial reconciliation, not racism, and said they were taken out of context by bloggers who posted only part of her speech.
Vilsack's statement came after the NAACP posted the full video of Sherrod's comments Tuesday night.
"I am of course willing and will conduct a thorough review and consider additional facts to ensure to the American people we are providing services in a fair and equitable manner," Vilsack said.
The administration's move to reconsider her employment was an absolute reversal from hours earlier, when the White House official said that Obama had been briefed on Sherrod's resignation after the fact and stood by the Agriculture Department's handling of it.
But growing calls for the administration to reconsider the decision put pressure on Vilsack, who stressed that the decision to ask for her resignation was his alone. The NAACP, which initially condemned Sherrod's remarks and supported her ouster, later said she should keep her job. The civil rights group said it and millions of others were duped by the conservative website that posted partial video of her speech on Monday.
Appearing in a nationally broadcast interview Wednesday morning, Sherrod said the tone of her comments posted on the website were misleading because they lacked context. "That's not me. If you look at my life's work, you would know that's not me."
The white farming family that was the subject of the story stood by Sherrod and said she should stay.
"We probably wouldn't have (our farm) today if it hadn't been for her leading us in the right direction," said Eloise Spooner, the wife of farmer Roger Spooner of Iron City, Ga. "I wish she could get her job back because she was good to us, I tell you."
As Sherrod reached out to media to plead her case and more people came to her defense, the administration faced criticism that officials nervous about racial perceptions overreacted to her comments and made her a political sacrifice amid dueling allegations of racism between the NAACP and the tea party movement.
In the clip posted on BigGovernment.com, Sherrod described the first time a white farmer came to her for help. It was 1986, and she worked for a nonprofit rural farm aid group. She said the farmer came in acting "superior" to her and she debated how much help to give him.
"I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland, and here I was faced with helping a white person save their land," Sherrod said.
Initially, she said, "I didn't give him the full force of what I could do" and only gave him enough help to keep his case progressing. Eventually, she said, his situation "opened my eyes" that whites were struggling just like blacks, and helping farmers wasn't so much about race but was "about the poor versus those who have."
The two-minute, 38-second clip posted Monday by BigGovernment.com was presented as evidence that the NAACP was hypocritical in its recent resolution condemning what it calls racist elements of the tea party movement. The website's owner, Andrew Breitbart, said the video shows the civil rights group condoning the same kind of racism it says it wants to erase. Biggovernment.com is the same outfit that gained fame last year after airing video of workers at the community group ACORN counseling actors posing as a prostitute and her boyfriend.
In his original statement on the matter Tuesday morning, Vilsack said he had accepted Sherrod's resignation and stressed that the department had "zero tolerance for discrimination." Later in the day, after Sherrod spoke to the media about the intention of her comments, Vilsack sent out a second statement that said the controversy surrounding Sherrod's comments could, rightly or wrongly, cause people to question her decisions as a federal employee and lead to lingering doubts about civil rights at the agency, which has a troubled history of discrimination.
Sherrod said officials showed no interest in listening to her explanation when she was asked to resign. She said she was on the road Monday when USDA deputy undersecretary Cheryl Cook called her and told her to pull over and submit her resignation on her Blackberry because the White House wanted her out.
"It hurts me that they didn't even try to attempt to see what is happening here, they didn't care," Sherrod said. "I'm not a racist. ... Anyone who knows me knows that I'm for fairness."
Sherrod appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America," CNN and NBC's "Today" show.