Volume 5, Number 9 January 8, 2002
"Too Little, Too Late"
by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Muímin Muhammad
The gallant efforts of the Associated Press writers who put together the series "Torn from the land" is like the cavalry riding into the fort after everybody has been massacred. In this case, not only did the cavalry arrive late, but they failed to report the real news. I was waiting to see if they would report the "real news" or the "rest of the story" before I tore into them.
We thank the Associated Press writers for exposing the individual acts of terrorism perpetrated against Black farmers and land owners. I am sure that the public after reading these articles may ask: "Where was the government? Why donít the Black farmers organize and fight back?" I asked those same questions myself waiting for that next expose that might answer such questions. Maybe there is another set of writers and investigative reporters busy gathering the "facts" and in two to five years may come forth with the set of definitive articles that expose the United States culpability in the loss of Black farm land. Of course by that time, most of the Black farmers who were denied justice under the Pickford vs. Glickman lawsuit will have lost their land and some their lives in their unpublicized battle against the USDA and the Bar. By that time a general Black Reparationsí lawsuit would have been "won" filled with holes for Black lives and hopes to fall through.
In 1997 a Black lawyer, James Myart, filed a suit in federal court, Williams, Long, Herrera, Bowie and Powell Vs Secretary of Agriculture, but the judge ruled it was too broad to define a class. Then Al Pires steps in and convinces the farmers to follow him. Eventually the Pigford vs. Glickman lawsuit is settled out of court. A Consent Decree was signed by Judge Paul Friedman in April of 1998, but as of January of 2002 only 60% of those in the class have been approved for compensation. Most of the 40% that were denied were actual farmers who might now lose their land due to USDA foreclosures.
The struggle of the Black farmers against the USDA, Justice Department and Al Pires from December of 1998 to April of 2001 has been documented in the video "Snake in the Reparationsí Grass" and covered by many articles in "The Farmer Newsletter" and on the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Associationís web page. These articles gives you an overview of the struggle, but now we want to get on a more personal level so that our readers will understand the price that Black farmers and their advocates must pay to save farm land. The Black farmers have been fighting back but their voices have not been heard.
In 1992 Robert and Laverne Williams of Roscoe, Texas, hired a Black lawyer, James Myart, to file suit against the USDA based on discrimination by their local county supervisor in Texas. Mr. Myart had finished high school at 16 and by the age of 22 he was teaching English at the University of San Antonio. He went to law school and got his law degree in two years from the University of Texas at Austin.
In 1993 the USDA sent Carlton Lewis to San Antonio who negotiated an administrative settlement for $1.3 million with Mr. and Mrs. Williams. However, the Office of General Council ruled that Mr. Lewis did not have the authority to make a ruling or settlement, so the USDA reneged. Mr. Myart retaliated in 1994 by filing a $5 million lawsuit against the USDA while Mike Espy, the first Black Secretary of Agriculture was in office. The Justice Department hired an attorney to be the arbitrator. The arbitrator advised the USDA to settle. The Justice Department hired another arbitrator and this one said according to Mrs. Williams, "I only have on thing to say. The Williamsí have gone through enough. You need to settle." The Williamsí thought they had won a settlement of $1.4 million and went back to Texas.
Secretary Espy had agreed to sign the paperwork in December of 1994 granting the $1.4 million to the Williamsí. However, the head lawyer for the USDA took the papers and went on a "hunting trip". Supposedly, nobody knew where the lawyer went or what happened to the paperwork. Secretary Espy was taken out of office on December 30, 1994. Mrs. Laverne Williams suffered her first heart attack in January of 1995.
Dan Glickman became Secretary of Agriculture in 1995 and was debating on settling with the Williamsí when he received a phone call from the then Chairman of the House Agricultural Committee, Charlie Stanhorn from Texas. According to Mrs. Williams, Charlie told Glickman, "If you settle this case with them niggers down there, Iím going to have problems with the white boys down here." Glickman did not settle with the Williams.
Instead Glickman reopened the Office of Civil Rights that had been closed under the Reagan administration in 1982. Pearly Reid was appointed Assistant Secretary in charge of Civil Rights and Lloyd Wright was appointed as Director of the Office of Civil Rights. Starting in 1996 Reid and Wright began to settle a few of the backlogged cases through the administrative process that were sitting since 1982. Some of these cases included those brought forward by James Myart including Richard and Matthew Grant and John Boyd. Mr. Boyd received a full settlement and one of the Grants received a partial settlement. The stress of fighting within the system for Black farmers appeared too great for Mr. Reid and Mr. Wright. Mr. Reid went back to the Forestry Branch of the USDA and Mr. Wright retired.
However, the Justice Department would not allow Mr. Myart to take the Williams case back through the administrative process. He went to Maxine Waters, then head of the Congressional Black Caucus, to get help against the Justice Department and USDA. However, the Justice Department still held the Williamsí hostage to punish Mr. Myart for being too outspoken on the Hill.
The Justice Department finally agreed to relieve the USDA debt against the Williamsí but would not give them a cash settlement. Mr. Myart then went back to the USDA which promised that the Williamsí could go back to their local county supervisor and reapply for loans. This was the same county supervisor who had discriminated against them before. The Williamsí then went to another county in 1998 and were told that they had an approved loan only to find out in 1999 that they were not to get the loan which exposed them to civil lawsuits by their creditors. Mrs. Williams has now suffered three heart attacks in her and her husbandís continuing saga against the USDA.
Back in 1996, realizing that he had ruffled some feathers in DC, Mr. Myart then introduced one of his clients, Mr. John Boyd, to Maxine Waters and the new director of the Civil Rights Division, Rosalind Gray as the spokesman for Black farmers. Through these connections Mr. Boyd was able to facilitate settlement through the Administrative process for a few other farmers in 1996. Mr. Boyd then spoke out against going through the Class action process and it appears began to undermine the work of Mr. Myart.
In the meantime, it is alleged that Mr. Myart turned down the case of Mr. Tim Pigford because his case was not strong enough. His own class action suit, Williams, Long, Herrara, Bowie and Powell Vs Secretary of Agriculture was ruled to be too broad by Judge Freidman in 1997. Mr. Pigford then went to Sam Taylor who introduced him to Alexander Pires who agreed to take his case. Mr. Myart worked with Al Pires to help him develop his case against the USDA. Mr. Myart turned over valuable information and helped to develop strategies to help Al Pires settle what had become the Pigford vs. Glickman Class Action Lawsuit.
While in a heated debate with USDA lawyers, trying to arrange a settlement for one of his clients, Mr. Myart reportedly blurted out, "You are as stingy as a damned Jew." Mr. Myart was disbarred in 1998 for two years. Although the accusation of "anti-Semitism" is used to explain Mr. Myart's demise, there is a nagging suspicion within the Black farm movement that Mr. John Boyd and his cohorts stood most to gain from his disbarment. This of course left the new comer, Al Pires as the lead attorney and advocate for the Black farmers who settled the Pigford vs. Glickman lawsuit out of court on November 3, 1998.
The Black farmers did not know what was in this "settlement" until November 5, 1998. After reading the proposed Consent Decree, the BFAA organized the farmers to protest the wording and provisions of the decree in March of 1999. At the fairness hearing even the lead plaintiff, Mr. Pigford, begged Judge Friedman to throw this Consent Decree out. However, Al Pires objected to any changes brought forward by the farmers and Judge Freidman signed the decree in April of 1999.
According to the provisions of the Consent Decree, a monitor was supposed to be put in place immediately to insure a fast and just settlement. The deadline for filing was set for October of 1999. However, the monitor was not put in place until a year later, April of 2000, after 40% of the applicants had been denied, again, "too little, too late."
Again, yes the Black farmers were "Torn from the land" by individuals in cahoots with the USDA who shielded the county supervisors, lost documents and falsified records, the US Congress who turned a deaf ear, the Justice Department that prosecutes "victims only" and lawyers working both sides of the isle on behalf of the "Bar" and not the people. In later articles we will bring you more specific cases of how the "tearing" is still going on in the 21st century. We will also expose how the US Government, state governments, local officials and lawyers have conspired to leave a people landless, helpless and broken, not by slavery, but by the tricknologists and terrorists of the modern age.
The Fourth National Black Land Loss Summit will be held in Atlanta, Ga from February 8-10, 2002 with the theme "Steps to Healing the Land". As a part of this summit many of the Black farmersí stories and struggle will be told and strategies for "healing" will be discussed. For more information contact Gary Grant, President of BFAA, at (252) 826-2800.