Volume 7, Number 2 November 20, 2003
Reparations Movement Beware: A Lesson from the Black Farmers
by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Muímin Muhammad
Sometimes "too little, too late" is worse than nothing at all. In farming there are optimal times to do specific operations to insure a profitable crop. A good farmer knows what he must do at certain times and plans to have the necessary resources in place to act on time. If he has not been able to act on time for that particular crop, then he must make a decision to continue spending time and money on a failing crop or save his resources for another season. The farmer must also thoroughly analyze the reasons for this seasonís failures and adjust his strategy for the upcoming season.
In an article called "The Achilles' Heel of the Reparations Lawsuits" Henry Mark Holzer points out four legal flaws in current reparations lawsuits: 1. There are no legitimate plaintiffs, i.e. the reparations lawsuits have been brought by people who were not slaves, and thus have no grievances; 2. There is no recognizable legal claim, i.e. slavery was legal; 3. There are no legitimate defendants, i.e. plaintiffs can not trace a causal connection of present damages to specific defendants; and 4. There are no provable damages.
However, the Black Farmers claims were legitimate and quantifiable: The government caused them to lose land, money and equipment which could be documented. The farmers could also document the governmentís negligence by its dismantling the office of Civil Rights in the USDA which had the responsibility of insuring their rights. They had clear grievances, identifiable plaintiffs and sued the entity clearly responsible, i.e. the USDA.
All class action lawsuits filed by Black lawyers including those filed in 1990 and 1997 were thrown out of federal court until a white "do gooder" lawyer named Alexander Pires showed up in 1998. By the end of 1998 Mr. Pires had accepted a consent decree on behalf of the Black farmers as a settlement in the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit against the USDA. The Black farmers protested the "details" of the consent decree in federal court to Judge Friedman in March of 1999 which they knew would lead to the dismal outcome that they now face. The farmers went back to federal court in July of 2000 to ask Judge Friedman to throw it out and start over again. Most of the motions to help the farmers were thrown out by Judge Friedman, while many motions that allowed the government to stall the process and get out of paying farmers and removing their debt to the USDA were allowed.
It is now November of 2003 and the consent decree was scheduled to end April 14, 2004 and yet the farmers are still suffering and still protesting. Only 60% of the applicants prevailed and most of those who did prevail were either non-farmers or farmers with no intention of going back into farming. Even the monies that were dispersed were spread out over a number of years so that the farmers could not put their resources together to move forward collectively.
The united front that Judge Friedman admitted was the force that pushed the government into the consent decree has been broken. Now each group blames the other for not doing enough to make the government (the enemy of each group) abide by its own piece of paper (consent decree). And now as the great American engine of prosperity is wearing down, it seems that she will attempt to leave her once slaves in a squabble over yet another attempt of receiving reparations from a heartless bankrupt "turnip" (the US government).
Past efforts to get reparations from this government were given a historical perspective by Dr. Conrad W. Worrill in his 2003 article "A REPARATIONS HISTORICAL OVERVIEW." In this article Dr. Worrill points out that the movement for reparations goes back to the leadership of Sister Callie House who founded The National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief Bounty and Pension Association in the 1890s. According to historian Mary Frances Berry, Sister House organized a Black Mass Movement demanding reparations from the 1890s to 1915. However, "After finding no evidence of federal violations, U. S. officials indicted Ms. House and a number of other members, at Nashville for fraud, for using the mail to distribute one of the Associationís carefully drawn leaflets. She was found guilty and sentenced to a year and a day in the federal prison at Jefferson City."
Although this phase of the Reparations Movement was not successful, the spirit and organizing work carried on through the Garvey Movement and continued with Robert Brock, who filed a suit in 1965 to stop the statute of limitations as it relates to slavery reparations. Queen Mother Moore championed reparations for over sixty years. She is considered the High Priestess of the Reparations Movement and formed the Reparations Committee of Descendants of United States Slaves, Inc., along with Dara Abubakari. In 1962, they delivered a petition to the United Nations demanding the United States be made to pay reparations.
Contributions to the Reparations Movement resurfaced through the leadership of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X in the 1960s, making the demand for reparations through Muhammad Speaks, the print voice of the Nation of Islam. The Republic of New Africa made a reparations demand in 1968, demanding payment of $400 billion in damages for slavery.
Dr. Worril goes on to write that the National Coalition Of Blacks for Reparations in America (N`COBRA) was organized in 1988 following in the tradition of Callie House. Beginning in 1989, Congressman John Conyers introduced legislation in each Congress calling for the U. S. government to study the impact of slavery on Africans in the United States.
Since the late 1980s, several organizations including the December 12th Movement, the Uhuru Movement, The Lost and Found Nation of Islam, the Republic of New Africa (RNA), and the National Black United Front (NBUF) continue to organize around the demand for reparations. The Tulsa Race Riot Commission, under the leadership of Representative Donn Ross has generated more interest in the movement. Since the late 1990s, Attorney Deadria Farmer-Paellmannís research on the insurance companies that held policies on enslaved Blacks in the 1850s has led to a Corporate Reparations Lawsuit.
The reparations movement has now entered a very serious stage of its development. White "do gooder" lawyers such as Alexander Pires, the lead attorney in the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit, and others are developing reparations lawsuits to present to the court. Based on past experience it is very likely that the "white" brand of "paper" will be accepted by the court leading Black people down the same trail of tears that Pires led the Black farmers through.
We are not saying that Reparations is not justified. However, the form of such reparations, including the methods to insure that the "instrument" chosen will produce the desired results of repairing the victims, must be carefully analyzed in light of the continuing saga of the Black farmers. In fact the continuing recalcitrance of the United States government to correct an obvious, recent and correctable wrong should prove to all concerned that the issue of reparations for wrongs done over 150 years ago leading up to today is not being forced upon the innocent white victims of today. White people and their governments are still in the unrepentant practice of stealing resources, legislating unfair advantage, denying their own guilt and denying justice to their victims. Reparations movement leaders must beware of the "Snake in the Reparationsí Grass" that continues to bite the Black farmers.