WASHINGTON - Flooded with apologies from everywhere, Shirley Sherrod got the biggest "I'm sorry" of all Thursday - from a contrite President Barack Obama, who personally appealed to the ousted worker to come back.
Sherrod, who was forced to resign on Monday because of racial comments she made at an NAACP gathering, was asked by Obama to rejoin the federal government and transform "this misfortune" into a chance to use her life experiences to help people, said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
Obama had stayed out of the public brouhaha that followed Sherrod's ouster from the Agriculture Department after a conservative blog posted a clip of the black woman's comments and portrayed her as racist. Once it became clear that the speech in question was advocating racial reconciliation, not racism, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack apologized to her and offered her a new job Wednesday. Thursday morning, Obama spoke by phone with Sherrod and said he hoped she would accept Agriculture's offer of a new position, Gibbs said. Sherrod said she hadn't decided whether she would accept the invitation to come back, but she did accept the apologies.
The fracas started when Sherrod was forced to resign as Georgia's director of rural development Monday after a conservative blogger posted a video of her telling a crowd at a local NAACP meeting about her initial reluctance 24 years ago to help a poor white farmer seeking government assistance.
Sherrod took to the media Tuesday denying that her comments were racist, and the NAACP - which had at first condemned her remarks, then later apologized - posted the full 43-minute video showing the entire speech. The farmer in question also did interviews and said Sherrod had eventually helped him save his farm.
Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart said he had posted a portion of Sherrod's remarks in an effort to illustrate that racism exists in the NAACP, an argument he was using to counter allegations by the civil rights organization of racism in the tea party movement.