WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2010— -- Shirley Sherrod, the Agriculture Department official whose ouster from her job last month sparked a heated debate on race and politics, today declined an offer to return to work in the agency's civil rights division.
Sherrod told reporters she could not accept the job "at this point, with all that has happened."
"I know [Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack] has apologized and I accept that," she said. "A new process is in place and I hope that it works. But I think I can be helpful to him and the department if I just take a little break and look at how I can be more helpful in the future."
Vilsack, who appeared with Sherrod at a news conference to announce her decision, has said he accepts full responsibility for the mistaken firing after a conservative blogger released an excerpt of a speech Sherrod gave several months ago that seemed to cast her as racist.
"I disappointed the president," he said. "I disappointed the department, I disappointed Shirley and I disappointed myself."
Vilsack met privately with Sherrod for about 90 minutes to encourage her to accept the job, to no avail.
But Sherrod did leave the door open for returning to support the agency's civil rights work in the years ahead. "I look forward to some type of relationship with the department in the future," Sherrod said. "We do need to work on the issues of discrimination and race in this country."
The Agriculture Department official, based in Georgia, first grabbed national headlines last month after conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted a video clip of her from a March NAACP event talking about her dilemma in helping a white farmer 24 years ago.
She was quickly fired from the agency after the clip surfaced, a move the White House later said was based on an "incomplete set of facts."
Zero Tolerance for Discrimination
Vilsack, who has said that "there is zero tolerance for discrimination" at his agency, flipped from his initial decision after the NAACP released the full video of Sherrod's remarks, which supported her argument that her speech had been taken out of context and, in fact, she'd been preaching against racism.
President Obama called Sherrod to apologize on behalf of the administration and encouraged her to accept another job with the department.
Obama "emphasized that [Agriculture] Secretary [Tom] Vilsack was sincere in his apology yesterday, and in his work to rid USDA of discrimination," according to the White House.
The president also told Sherrod that "this situation may present an opportunity to continue helping people if she's interested, and he hopes that she will do so," the statement from the White House said.
Breitbart, the conservative blogger who first posted the video with the headline, "Video Proof: The NAACP Awards Racism -- 2010," said it was not meant to be an attack on Sherrod but rather a lesson to the NAACP that it uses accusations of racism to stifle dissent.
"What this video clearly shows is a standard that Tea Party has not been held to, is that the NAACP shows people in the audience there applauding her when she discriminates against a white farmer. That was the point I was trying to make," Breitbart said.
"This was not about Shirley Sherrod. This was about the smears that have gone on against the Tea Party."
Sherrod has said she plans to sue Breitbart but declined to comment on the case today.
ABC News' Karen Travers, Huma Khan and Jake Tapper contributed to this report.