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Black farmers keep up struggle for compensation

Published Oct 7, 2010 9:42 PM

African-American farmers have held a series of activities highlighting the failure of the Senate to pass legislation that would grant them compensation for decades of discrimination by the U.S. government.

Most recently, they were in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 27 demanding $1.15 billion due them through a lawsuit that dates back to the 1990s. Even though the Department of Agriculture had agreed to settle the suit, known as the Pigford case, the federal government bureaucracy denied the claims of most of the farmers.

Last year the Obama administration had agreed to include funds for settling outstanding claims by thousands of African-American farmers in the annual budget. The House of Representatives passed the bill, but the Senate excluded the appropriations, which were tacked on to a Pentagon spending bill.

Before the recent protest, John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, spent more than a week in Washington driving a tractor called “Justice.” He visited the Senate, where he urged members to pass the legislation.

Interviewed by the National Newspaper Publishers Association, Boyd said: “It’s discrimination. It’s about justice. Black farmers have not been getting justice.” (Sept. 27)

Marching alongside Boyd and other farmers were members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, current leader Barbara Lee of California and former Chairperson Maxine Waters of California. Waters said she had been working on this issue for almost 15 years and had urged then-Attorney General Janet Reno “to waive the statute of limitations so that farmers could redress decades of financial and racial discrimination with the Department of Justice.” (NNPA, Sept. 27)

At a news conference after the march, Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, who is chair of the Agricultural Committee, said they would introduce a stand-alone bill with Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana to provide funding for the $1.15 billion settlement.

A Sept. 24 letter to the Senate signed by many groups demanded “immediate action by the Senate in passage of legislation to fund the Black farmer settlement. ... Black farmers in the case have waited for more than a decade for a resolution of their cases. This is far too long.”

The signers included the Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation, the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, the Land Loss Prevention Project, the Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project, and the Rural Advancement Fund, all members of the Network of Black Farm Groups. Also signing the letter in support were the NAACP, the National Farmers Union, the Malcolm X Center for Self-Determination, the Rural Library Project and a host of other organizations from around the U.S.

Demand stand-alone bill

Previous efforts to win compensation have led to appropriations attached to other legislation. African-American farmers are demanding that any new effort be channeled through separate and specific legislation designed to award claims.

John Boyd stated recently: “I am calling for a cloture vote on a stand-alone Black farmers’ bill. While there are lots of very important causes, the Black farmers know that unless this bill is considered on its own merits, other bills that have nothing to do with this issue — including the Cobell Native American trust fund case — may keep it from passing.” (Indian Country Today, Sept. 27)

Boyd continued, “Black farmers are dying, in fact another farmer active in the movement died this past week, and I can’t let politicians use other issues as excuses not to vote on justice for Black farmers.” Plaintiffs in the Cobell case have not received any compensation either, despite support by the Obama administration for a $3.4 billion settlement proposal.

Thousands of Cobell plaintiffs would receive $1,000 to $2,000 in payments, amounts that their representatives argue are far too small to compensate Native people for more than a century of the Interior Department’s misuse and exploitation of their lands.

Dennis Gingold, lawyer for the Native plaintiffs in the Cobell case, said that the Black Caucus was unhappy with the Senate bill and would “oppose any supplemental war appropriations bill unless Pigford is on it.”

Whether the two cases are settled separately or together, the amounts of compensation in question can in no way ameliorate the Native and African peoples’ centuries-long suffering as a result of forced removals, enslavement and national discrimination. All oppressed nations in the U.S. have a right to reparations and complete self-determination.