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Vol. 73/No. 17      May 4, 2009

Black farmers to hold rally
against gov’t discrimination
(front page)
Black farmers will hold a rally and one-day conference in Washington, D.C., April 28. The rally will demand that President Barack Obama’s administration follow through on legislation that the president sponsored as a senator in 2007 enabling more Black farmers to apply for and receive compensation for discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In 1999 Black farmers won a settlement in the historic Pigford v. Glickman class-action lawsuit that challenged the USDA’s discriminatory treatment of Black farmers in gaining access to funding and other services compared to similarly situated white farmers. Farmers who prevailed were to receive a $50,000 tax-exempt payment, debt forgiveness, and preferential treatment on future loan applications. However, 86 percent of the 94,000 farmers who filed claims were turned down, overwhelmingly due to stringent deadlines imposed by the government without adequate notice.

“We are going into planting season and farmers need the money due to them,” John Boyd told the Militant in a phone interview. Boyd is president of the National Black Farmers Association.

Legislation sponsored by Obama that was incorporated into the 2008 farm bill allows thousands of farmers who were excluded from the Pigford settlement to seek redress. It also provides an initial $100 million to finance payments to farmers who can prove they were discriminated against by the government.

Now officials at the USDA say the initial $100 million outlay should be a ceiling to be divided among farmers who qualify for compensation, reported the Associated Press.

In a separate phone interview, Gary Grant, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association in Tillery, North Carolina, said farmers would end up with only a few thousand dollars. “That’s not enough to pay the lawyers’ fees,” Grant said. Thousands of Black farmers have lost their land as a result of USDA discriminatory practices. Grant faces the loss of his family’s land in the next 30 days because of an outstanding contested debt of $54,000. The government claims that with interest the debt has risen to $200,000.

“Once again we are being told to wait,” said Boyd. “The government is refusing to pay the administrative costs to process the claims. They didn’t tell the banks, the auto companies, and the insurance companies to wait. Right is right and it doesn’t matter who is in the White House.”

In 2007 then-senator Obama sent Boyd a letter, which said in part, “I am pleased to join my colleague, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, in introducing S. 515, the Pigford Claims Remedy Act… . Please know I stand ready to continue my help.”

“How can they have a bill that doesn’t change what farmers are required to prove about discrimination but changes the compensations that farmers should receive?” asked Grant.

The farmers will rally at 10:30 a.m. outside the USDA offices. For more information contact the National Black Farmers Association at (804) 691-8528 or
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