Volume 7, Number 9 March 21, 2004
"Passion" of the Black Farmers
by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Mu’min Muhammad
J. Kavin Ross of the Oklahoma Eagle in his March 18, 2004 article called "Black hoax or Black Fact?" exposes that Black people may have been "…hoodwinked and bamboozled by a scam artist." African Americans in Oklahoma rushed to the post office late Monday, March 12, 2004 to meet a March 15 deadline with the Black Farmers and Agriculturalist Association, Inc.
This organizer promised that those who met the deadline would recover as much as $50,000 per claimant. The potential claimants were told that the United States Department of Agriculture has over $11 billion dollars owed to descendants of slave and it is locked away. This organizer is referring to the now closed Pigford vs.. Glickman Black farmers’ class action lawsuit whose deadline for filing was October12, 1999. Although the lawsuit filing date is far in the past, this organizer claims that a "petition" drive can force the courts to accept new claimants and that the claimants need not be farmers, just Black.
In February 2004, a representative from the monitor’s office was asked at a meeting of Black farmers in Albany, GA, if there was any legal way of reopening the case so that new applicants could be considered. The representative said that "…there was no legal way to reopen the lawsuit for new applicants," but the appeal process was getting some denials reversed. A review of the monitor’s website (www.pigfordmonitor.org) indicates that over 22,159 "Track A" applications had been accepted in the lawsuit. As of March 15, 2004 only 61% of the claims were ruled in favor of the claimants, and 39% had been denied. Although the monitor’s office stated that some denials had been reversed, according to their own website, no one else has gotten paid in 2 years. The total money dispersed to these claimants remains at about $818,450,387, which is far below the $2.4 billion that the government claimed as the value of this lawsuit much less, $11 billion.
Now this organizer offers this bogus petition of hope who has been so successful that the Post Office investigator from Covington, TN has called Mr. Gary Grant, the president of original Black Farmers and Agriculturalist Association (BFAA) to find the person in Tennessee that has a post office box overflowing with these applications, in order to ask his some questions.
According to the J. Kevin Ross article, the national office of the Better Business Bureau has issued a public statement:
"Callers to the Better Business Bureau of the MidSouth have indicated that this company, Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association, Inc., is soliciting $100 from consumers and attempting to gain signatures for a petition. The Better Business Bureau has requested basic information about the organization on two occasions by mail and the company has declined to provide any information. As of January 28, 2004, two phone numbers for the company have recordings stating that their voice mailbox is full, therefore, the Better Business Bureau has been unable to contact the company by phone."
The Better Business Bureau is not the only recipient of many calls and e-mails trying to find out if this petition scheme is legit and will offer what is promised. Ironically, many of these calls have come to the office of Mr. Gary R. Grant, the President of the original Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (BFAA). Mr. Grant has stated that his office receives about 15 calls per day and over the last few months, hundreds of e-mails concerning this scheme. The confusing issue is that there are 2 organizations calling themselves BFAA. The original BFAA, established in 1998 and incorporated in the state of North Carolina in 1999. The original BFAA was the organizing force that resulted in the Pigford vs. Glickman lawsuit. However, this same BFAA organization fought their own lawyer, Al Pires, and the federal judge, Paul J. Friedman, to fix or get rid of the lawsuit, once the farmers saw what was in it.
The original BFAA continued to fight the lawyers, the court and USDA on the Black farmers’ behalf until the Republicans took over the White House, the congress and used Mr. Tom Burrell to orchestrate a coupe of BFAA leadership in July of 2002. According to Mr. Grant, Tom Burrell told him in person, that someone "high up in the USDA said that the president of BFAA is too supportive of the ‘Democrats’ and that if he is removed there may be some funds that could be made available to BFAA."
BFAA never endorsed a Democrat nor Republican, but the BFAA membership had a policy that since "BFAA" was an advocacy organization for the Black farmers, it would not accept any money from the USDA as an organization until all of the Black farmers had gotten paid and their debt forgiven. BFAA virtually stayed on the steps of the USDA and DC Federal Court, becoming a thorn in the government’s side.
After Mr. Burrell found out that he could not legally take over the organization without getting a vote from the membership, he then incorporated another Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association in the state of Delaware in the fall of 2002 that would accept USDA money. So now there are two groups calling themselves BFAA, the original BFAA with national headquarters in Tillery, NC and the new BFAA, Inc physically working out of a P.O. box in Covington, TN. BFAA, Inc. did not get the promised "payoff" from the USDA, but now the Delaware incorporated BFAA, Inc is the promoter of this petition scheme. The president of BFAA, Inc has not made himself available to answer questions, so the people call Mr. Grant, who was reelected president of BFAA in 2003.
We received a passionate response by Mr. Grant on March 19, 2004 where he stated:
"I have found it most difficult and disturbing at the same time that people would go through so much trouble, searching the Internet, trying to find a working fax or phone number in TN and find the real BFAA’s web site with a letter explaining that what BFAA, Inc. is doing is nothing but a scam, would then still call me in North Carolina.
Then after me and my staff would take the time to explain the whole history of the law suit and what we new about this scam, they would rather take their chances on a dream of something for nothing, $50,000, and not want to join the REAL BFAA to continue the protracted fight to change the policies at the USDA, get back land taken by the USDA and remove racist bigots who continue to commit atrocious attacks on Black farmers through denials of loan, denial of programmatic assistance and foreclosures.
Maybe the most hurtful thing of all is that in July of 2002 we had the USDA on the ropes to institute a memorandum of understanding to stop foreclosures on Black farmers, stop the taking of income tax refunds and program payments of Black farmers still in the appeal process of Pigford v. Glickman. If Mr. Burrell and his cohorts had waited just two more weeks, the Black farmers could have received a measure of relief. Instead Mr. Burrell and his cohorts went to the USDA to stop the negotiation process and beg for ‘30 pieces of silver’.
We have not wanted to go public with this split for sake of unity. We have not attacked Mr. Burrell nor attempted to destroy his organization. But we must defend the integrity of the original BFAA and those that depend on us to fight the USDA on behalf of Black farmers. This is a said day. How much more blood must the Black farmers shed?"