Washington (CNN) -- While Van Jones may have left the White House under a cloud, the NAACP says that's not his whole story.
The group considers him a pioneering hero for the environment and civil rights -- so much so that it is awarding him one of its highest honors Friday: an NAACP Image Award. It's a move that is just becoming public now, which is sure to stoke the fire from Jones critics.
Jones resigned in September 2009 from his position on the Council on Environmental Quality, under a firestorm of criticism over a petition he had signed and his comments about Republicans.
The Obama administration's "green czar" helped coordinate government agencies focused on delivering millions of green jobs to the ailing U.S. economy.
Jones said he was the victim of a "vicious smear campaign" based on "lies and distortions."
Benjamin Jealous, NAACP president and CEO, said he's not concerned about criticism the NAACP might face over honoring the controversial Jones.
"We care about getting the best ideas, the best minds and Van is one of them," Jealous said. "What should be controversial is we pushed one of the greatest minds to the side in this country when we needed him most."
In an opinion piece on CNN.com, Jealous calls Jones "an American treasure," and says he might be "the most misunderstood man in America."
"The real Van Jones story is about how a young leader became the father of the green jobs movement. In response to a longstanding jobs crisis in Oakland, California, he initiated the Oakland Green Jobs Corps, one of the nation's first job training programs targeting low-income people for work in the solar and green industries. This program has become a renowned model for numerous initiatives that are now up and running across America," Jealous says in the piece.
"In America, we ultimately judge people on what they are doing today for tomorrow, not for what they did yesterday."
In a White House statement announcing his resignation, Jones said, "On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide."
He came to Washington to "fight for others, not for myself. ... I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for the future," Jones said.
The decision followed an uproar over a petition Jones signed in 2004 calling for an investigation into whether government officials deliberately allowed the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to occur.
In a statement during the the week before stepping down, Jones said of the petition on the Web site 911truth.org: "I do not agree with this statement and it certainly does not reflect my views now or ever."
An administration source said that Jones had not carefully reviewed the language in the petition before signing.
Jones has also come under fire for comments he made, also before his White House job, including those in a video that can be seen on YouTube. In it, he uses a vulgar expression to describe Republicans.
In 2005, Jones was quoted in the East Bay Express as describing the impact that the acquittals in the police beating case of Rodney King in 1992 had on him. "By August, I was a Communist," he says in the article, describing his sense of radicalization at the time.
In his statement, Jones said, "If I have offended anyone with statements I made in the past, I apologize."
One of the most prominent conservative voices condemning Jones was FOX TV host Glenn Beck.
Jones is a co-founder of colorofchange.org, a group that pressed advertisers to boycott Beck's program after Beck called Obama a racist.
Jones' appointment heightened criticisms of the appointment of so-called "czars," officially called presidential advisers, to positions within the administration that aren't subject to congressional oversight or Senate confirmation.