Black farmers protest
Rallies demand compensation
National Black Farmers Association
Black farmers and supporters rally in Columbus, Georgia, February 11 to press ongoing fight for government redress and protest years of empty promises.
BY JOHN BENSON
COLUMBUS, GeorgiaHundreds of Black farmers rallied across the South February 6-15 to demand government action to compensate them for discrimination at the hands of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) over decades. The National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) called the actions.
In 1999 Black farmers won a settlement in the historic Pigford v. Glickman class-action lawsuit. The suit challenged the USDAs denial of equal access to funding and other services to Black farmers. The discrimination forced thousands of them off their land.
The court ordered the government agency to give claimants a $50,000 tax-exempt payment, debt forgiveness, and preferential treatment on future loan applications. However, 86 percent of the 94,000 Black farmers who filed claims were turned down.
Some 600 farmers and their supporters attended the rally called by the NBFA here February 11. Homer Hodge and two other farmers from Crawford, Alabama, explained why they had come. In 1997 and 1998 arbitrators denied claims of my two brothers, then they claimed I was too late, said Hodge. We could not get money to buy tractors and seed.
At the time we farmed cotton and several vegetables, now all we farm and sell is corn. I made no money last year because of the drought, he said, and has not gotten any drought relief.
NBFA president John Boyd said the fight is not just about claims. We want to be able to participate in all the farm programs, the subsidy programs. The average subsidy for Black farmers is $200 per farmer, while the average subsidy for the top 10 percent of white farmers is $1 million, he said.
Government stalls on payment
In 2008 up to $100 million was included as part of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act to compensate those farmers who missed the deadline. Although the money has been included in two federal budgets it has yet to be approved in a spending authorization bill.
President Barack Obama has filed a request for $1.15 billion in the federal budget to compensate Black farmers, but no serious effort has been made by the administration to gain Congresss approval of the funds.
In Montgomery, Alabama, 500 rallied February 10 at the state capitol. Several hundred Black farmers turned out for the protest in Columbia, South Carolina, February 12. If youre out here toiling in the soil and trying to make a living from the earth, Clarendon County, South Carolina, farmer Henry King, Jr., said, it gets rough when at the same time, you have to deal with discrimination. King was one of the farmers who succeeded in getting his payment, but said he came out to encourage others to fight for theirs.
We have earned this
Hundreds rallied in Jackson, Mississippi, February 9, waving signs that said, Years of Empty Promises. Farmer Carroll Otis told WTOK-TV, Were not asking more of anything. We have earned this.
In Memphis, Tennessee, 150 farmers gathered on February 8, the Tri-State Defender reported. Farmer L.C. Smith explained, They put me out of business
. I couldnt pay my lease on my land. White farmers at the same time were getting loans, he said.
Grand Junction farmer Willie Woody, 67, told the Defender that in the 1960s he tried to get a government loan and was turned down. But then the white folks were going in the back door and still getting applications in to get money.
Two hundred farmers rallied in Little Rock, Arkansas, February 6 and in Richmond, Virginia, February 13. In Richmond Boyd told the farmers, The Congress looks down on Black farmers. They think were uneducated. They look at our raggedy equipment; they see how we have to borrow money from our families to keep farming.
Every year you have to renew your contract, said Elvis Witcher, 52, a Virginia farmer who grows tobacco on his 200-acre farm. But the tobacco companies dont tell you how to get the contracts, and if you lose your contract, you can lose your farm. Witcher and another tobacco farmer at the Richmond meeting began discussing how to start a committee to help tobacco farmers work together on this issue.
Several dozen farmers and supporters turned out for a rally and news conference outside the USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C., February 15. We used to plant corn, soybeans, peanuts, and tobacco on a farm thats been in our family for generations, said John Yates, 53, from Dinwiddie County, Virginia. Yates and four cousinsFletcher, Charlie, Jimmy, and Robertjoined the action.
Yates and his cousins would like to return to farming. We filed for a loan in the 1970s, but were denied, he said, and eventually they had to give up active farming. He now works in an aluminum plant.
If farmers plant late, they cant compete. There are long delays in processing Black farmers requests for loans. Black farmers are kept off the county committees that decide on loans, Boyd said at the event. Black farmers are only advisors to the committees, we dont get to vote on who will get loans in our area.
Lawrence Lucas, president of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees, also addressed the rally. The new administration promised change, Lucas said. But that day has not arrived. Not one Black farmers claim has been processed since Obama took office.
Susan LaMont and Cindy Jaquith contributed to this article.
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