Volume 5, Number 18 April 11, 2002
"Sooner or Later..."
by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Mu’min Muhammad
Sooner or later the USDA is going to get you, if you are a Black farmer. Dr. Cliff Herron, the Director of Outreach Programs at the Farm Service Agency (USDA), addressed participants at the Shadow Land Conference held at Tuskegee University March 25 and 26, 2002. His presentation was significant because he stated in no uncertain terms that Black farmers would be wise to "stay clear of the USDA loan programs".
This type of warning comes much too late for the 3,000 or more farmers that are back in the position of being foreclosed on by the USDA. The Black farmers had hoped that the Pigford v. Glickman class action lawsuit would protect them against the USDA. However, it only stayed the day of execution. Now many of the Black farmers who were protected by the moratorium on foreclosures, while they sought relief in the Consent Decree, are now facing the USDA land grabbers again. They were denied relief in the Consent Decree and Alexander Pires has refused to appeal their cases.
This past Sunday, April 7th, we took a film crew to visit one such farmer and his family near Hawkinsville, Ga. Mr. Oscar Bembry is a 83 year old farmer who has farmed independently for 42 years and farmed with his father when his father purchased their 300 acre farm in 1942. The farm was paid for in 1965. However, to make farm improvements, buy new equipment and have the operating capital necessary to run a modern farm, Mr. Bembry started dealing with the USDA in the 70’s.
At first Mr. Bembry was doing fine, borrowing up to $118,000 per year in operating capital and paying it all back at the end of the growing season. Not many Black people borrow over $100,000 at a time, turn over that money and pay it back each year. Well Mr. Bembry like other Black farmers were doing this on a constant basis.
However, things began to change in the early 1980’s. The Civil Rights Division of the USDA was dismantled by President Reagan in 1983 and there was no place for the farmers to complain to as the "later" part of "Sooner or Later" kicked in. Mr. Bembry was getting his operating capital in February from 1977-78, March in 1979, April in 1980, May in 1981, July in 1982 and October in 1983. The optimal time to plant is either late March or early April for south-central Georgia. So having operating capital to put out fertilizer, buy seeds and chemicals by the beginning of March would put Mr. Bembry in a good position to make optimal yields which would allow him to pay his loans back.
As you see he started receiving his operating loans later and later. In 1983, not only did he receive his loan extremely late, October, but he received only $45,000 whereas he needed $120,000. One might say, "Well, he should only spend $45,000". Well, in farming if you half do things, you might not get anything. Mother Nature can be very strict.
So Mr. Bembry began to fall behind on his repayments to the USDA and they kept adding on interest, denied him disaster payments and now says he owes $165,000. Mr. Bembry entered the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit with the hope that he could get this debt removed, because it was actions of the USDA personnel in his county that help put him in this predicament.
Mr. Bembry filed a claimant’s package in 1999 and claimed that he was financially injured because he received his loans late and starting in 1983 he received less than half of what he needed. Mr. Bembry received a denial letter from the Adjudicator that he had been denied "relief" under the Consent Decree. Among the reasons given for denial were:
1. The USDA records do not indicate claimant’s 1981 operating loan file.
2. There is a record that claimant received two emergency loans in 1981 totaling $117,000.
3. The records supplied for the white farmers do not specifically reflect disaster aid, though at least two of the farmers received loans...
The result: "Claim denied. Claimant’s contentions are not borne out by the records supplied by the USDA." The lawyer that helped Mr. Bembry fill out his original claim form turned over the appeal process to Mr. Pires, the lead attorney for the case. Mr. Pires refused to appeal Mr. Bembry’s case to the Monitor for review.
I am not a lawyer, however from a layman’s perspective the reasons for denial by the Adjudicator were completely out of line with the claimant’s allegations of discrimination:
1. I have seen Mr. Bembry’s "1981 operating loan application". So I don’t know why the USDA would claim not to have it. Plus, this information is irrelevant to his claim of receiving loans late and less than needed.
2. Mr. Bembry did not receive an "emergency loan" but an "operating loan" in 1981 and this issue was not even a part of his complaint.
3. The white farmers’ records show that they did receive "loans" and this was what Mr. Bembry needed to prove discrimination in the issuance of loans. The issue of the white farmers’ "disaster aid" has nothing to do with Mr. Bembry’s complaint of being discriminated against in the issuance of operating loans.
Now Mr. Bembry and his 79 year old wife are subject to being thrown out on the streets because of this government and its lawyers’ callous and malevolent practices. Lawyers seldom sue lawyers, so it seems that Mr. Pires has gotten away with a $38 million pay check with a lot of broken lives in his wake. Maybe the 40 million Black people will wake up before Mr. Pires wets his appetite for more Black victims.
OOPS!!! I heard he plans to file a class action lawsuit on behalf of former slaves in September of 2002. Can you spell, SNAKE. Please read "Snake in the Reparations Grass" on www.MuhammadFarms.com.