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Shirley Sherrod vows to sue conservative blogger who misrepresented her remarks

July 29, 2010 |  9:56 am

Ousted Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod, shown July 29. Credit: Associated Press Shirley Sherrod, the African American federal agriculture official who was forced out of her job after a conservative blogger posted a heavily edited portion of a speech she had made, said Thursday that she believes her experience provides a fresh opportunity for a discussion of race issues in the nation.

"If the suffering I've endured and the joy I've felt gets that discussion back out there, we've got to deal with it," said Sherrod, who made her remarks at a panel discussion entitled "Context and Consequences" at the annual convention of the National Assn. of Black Journalists being held in San Diego.

Sherrod's forced resignation as director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture has touched off a highly charged discussion nationwide about journalism, race, and politics. She was forced out July 19 after  conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted a small  portion of the video of a speech Sherrod had given.

In the part of the speech that was posted, Sherrod appeared to indicate that she would not help a white farmer as she would a black farmer. In reaction, the NAACP condemned her and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack ordered her resignation.

But when the fuller context was made public, it was obvious that Sherrod's speech had carried the opposite message: the need to transcend race and to help all poor people without regard to race. The white farmer appeared on national television to defend Sherrod and say that without her intervention decades ago he would have lost his farm to foreclosure.

Those revelations brought an apology to Sherrod from the White House and an offer from Vilsack of another job in the department. Sherrod is said to be considering that offer.

Sherrod, 62,  said Thursday she will sue Breitbart. She said he has not offered her an apology, nor does she want one.

She also repeated her invitation to President Obama to accompany her on a tour of rural Georgia landmarks of the civil rights movement, in which she and her husband, Charles, were active.

Saying that many Americans, black or white, don't know  much about the height of the civil rights movement a half a century ago, Sherrod said of Obama, "I need to have him down there so I can take him around and show him some of that history. He should come and see and hear that firsthand."

Responding to questions, Sherrod said she believes the White House is allowing vocal conservative journalists and bloggers "to decide how to govern."  But she said bears no ill feelings toward the NAACP, which condemned her before seeing the entire video, nor Vilsack.

"It's not about me," she said, "It's about us and all we have to accomplish."

Sherrod said she was buoyed by the response once the entire video was revealed:

"I've gone from feeling like such a failure ... to feeling very, very great with all the support that's come forth."

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Ousted Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod. Credit: Associated Press