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Sherrod regards Obama's call as apology

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Shirley Sherrod talks with Obama
  • NEW: Sherrod, white family at center of drama are reunited in Georgia
  • Sherrod says President Obama didn't say "sorry," but she feels "good" about the phone call
  • She says the official who asked for her resignation was simply a "messenger"
  • Sherrod says she asked Obama to come to South Georgia

(CNN) -- The former Agriculture Department employee at the center of a political firestorm said Friday that President Barack Obama didn't literally say he was "sorry" when they spoke Thursday, but "by simply calling me," she believed he was apologizing.

Shirley Sherrod -- forced to resign from her job based on incomplete and misleading reports about a speech she gave in March -- also told CNN's "American Morning" that the department official who asked for her resignation was only a "messenger."

And later Friday, she had a "very emotional" reunion with the white Georgia couple she referenced about in her now-famous speech.

As for the White House, Sherrod told CNN that it had had been trying to reach her since Wednesday night.

"My phone was full, couldn't take any more messages. Finally, I was on the way to the airport in an attempt to get home when I checked my messages and had received one from the White House saying the president was trying to get in touch with me and give them a call," she said. "I did that, and I had the conversation with him, and, you know, I feel good about that."

Asked whether she was able to enlighten him about her work, she said they didn't have time to get into that.

"But toward the end of the conversation, I told him I'd love to have him come to South Georgia," she said, adding that she would "take him around and show him some things."

"I could definitely bring the point home," said Sherrod, who lives in Georgia.

She said he didn't precisely say he was sorry.

Video: Mystery woman in Sherrod saga
Video: Debating the tape

"I really didn't want to hear the president of the United States say 'I'm sorry' to Shirley Sherrod," she said. "I felt he was saying that in his talk just by simply calling me. I felt it was, in a way, saying 'I'm sorry' because he didn't have to do it."

The Sherrod controversy began after conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted a portion of the speech in which Sherrod spoke of not offering her full help to a white farmer. The original post indicated that the incident Sherrod mentioned occurred when she worked for the Agriculture Department, and news outlets quickly picked up on the story.

However, the incident took place decades before she joined the department, and her speech in its unedited form made the point that people should move beyond race. In addition, the white farmer whom Sherrod mentioned has told reporters that Sherrod helped him save his farm.

Nevertheless, Sherrod was swiftly fired after government officials heard only the portion of the speech. When the full version of the speech was heard, she received apologies from the White House, the agriculture secretary and the NAACP, which criticized the edited remarks.

On "American Morning" on Friday, Sherrod was asked about the "ability" of Obama, American's first black president, to discuss and deal with racial issues.

"I guess because he's a black president, for some reason, they felt you can't talk about issues that affect just black people," she said.

She said she believes that "the administration feels too that if they highlight issues of black people ... the country would perceive (it) as something negative. I know they probably have to struggle with that. But I think they're wrong. I think they could do more to advance unity if they could promote a discussion from that level."

Sherrod was also asked about Cheryl Cook, the Agriculture Department official who phoned Sherrod and asked for her resignation.

"I know Cheryl Cook, and I know, had she been given the opportunity to make a decision her on her own, we wouldn't be sitting here talking about this. So she was the messenger. I really truly do believe it was not her message," she said. "Cheryl is a great person. I definitely want to see her be able to continue the work she was doing at USDA. So I would hope that this attention on her would not cause them to do the same thing they did to me: boot her out."

Sherrod has received an apology for her firing from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Although she hasn't received an apology from Breitbart, Sherrod said she is not sure she's ready for that kind of a chat just yet.

"He would really need to come and sit down with me and look me in the eye so that we could see if we could find a place -- I'm not saying I wouldn't forgive him, but we would need to see if we could find a place for that to happen.

"I don't see it at this point. He hasn't been willing. He hasn't tried to apologize to me for anything he's caused me to go through," she said.

Breitbart's website included corrections Wednesday on two blog entries that included the video footage from Sherrod's speech.

"Correction: While Ms. Sherrod made the remarks captured in the first video featured in this post while she held a federally appointed position, the story she tells refers to actions she took before she held that federal position," said a notice added to one of the postings on Breitbart's site.

A shorter version appeared on another posting of the Sherrod video footage. The corrections did not mention the edited nature of the video he posted Monday or the full context.

Breitbart told CNN's "Anderson Cooper: 360" on Thursday that he saw no reason to apologize: "What would warrant an apology? ... I'm not the one who threw her under the bus."

Sherrod had said that she was offered some type of civil rights position in the department's Office of Outreach and that she was expecting to receive something official in an e-mail from the department. On Friday, she did not address that issue or say she would accept the position.

The edited Sherrod video initially brought condemnation from the NAACP, which later retracted its statement and apologized to Sherrod after the context became clear.

Also, the farmer and his wife Sherrod was discussing, Roger and Eloise Spooner, came forward Tuesday, saying that they credited Sherrod with helping them save their farm and that she did not discriminate against them.

On Friday, Sherrod and the Spooners held a reunion at a restaurant in the Colquitt, Georgia, area. A CNN Special Investigations Unit witnessed the get-together.

CNN's Don Lemon, who saw the reunion, said it was "very emotional."

"The interesting thing is watching them look at each other in the eye and talk to each other. There were no tears but only big smiles. It seemed very authentic," he said.

Lemon asked the couple whether they'd ever have to help save her as she saved them.

"Never in a million years," Roger Spooner said.

The NAACP, which initially called Sherrod's statements "shameful," said in a statement Tuesday that it was "snookered by Fox News" and Breitbart.

Breitbart's post was picked up by the Fox News website.

On Monday, Fox News hosts Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity played the edited clip on their programs. O'Reilly, who had called for Sherrod's immediate resignation, apologized for his statements Wednesday. Also Wednesday, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith sharply criticized Breitbart's website as well as his network's own coverage of the story.