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Sherrod, USDA discussing consulting contract for work on civil rights issues

Shirley Sherrod, the Agriculture Department official ousted last year after media reports misconstrued her statements about white farmers as racially insensitive, is in talks with the agency about a consulting contract working on civil rights issues.

Sherrod, a former Georgia-based official with the USDA’s Rural Development office, described news reports this weekend that she would be renewing her relationship nearly a year after she was wrongly fired as “premature,” and a spokesman said she was surprised at the news reports.

“There’s currently no agreement. There have been discussions,” said Drew Berry, who has been handling Sherrod’s media relations since she was fired. It is possible that Sherrod will join the USDA in a consulting capacity, he said, but nothing has been finalized.

Sherrod could be involved with the department through a nonprofit organization she co-founded with her husband in 1971 working on a USDA program that promotes outreach and diversity. Sherrod previously rejected a job offer to join the USDA’s Office of Advocacy and Outreach that came after an embarrassed Obama administration forced her to resign, then turned around and offered her a promotion.

Both President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack apologized to Sherrod after the racial imbroglio, which found her explaining the full context of a speech she gave at an NAACP banquet. An edited video of the speech that was posted online made her remarks seem discriminatory.

The USDA is also seeking contracts with the National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association and the Intertribal Agriculture Council. Those groups and Sherrod’s would be tasked with implementing reforms recommended in a two-year, $8 million civil rights assessment released last week by the department.

“The Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education Inc., co-founded by Mrs. Sherrod, is considered among the best south-eastern regional organizations focused on the issues and populations affected by this assessment and has a strong relationship and understanding of the work of USDA. Conversations with Mrs. Sherrod are ongoing,” USDA spokesman Justin DeJong said.

In recent months, Sherrod has traveled the country speaking about racial healing and signed a book deal with Simon & Schuster for an undisclosed amount, Berry said. Her manuscript, tentatively titled “The Courage to Hope,” is due Sept. 1. The book is subtitled “How I Stood Up to the Right Wing Media, the Obama Administration and the Forces of Fear,” according to Publishers Weekly.

Sherrod’s civil lawsuit against conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, who released the video, is pending.

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