Volume 5, Number 28 September 15, 2002
"What has changed for Black Farmers?"
By Dr. Ridgely Abdul Mu’min Muhammad
September 11, 2002 marked the opening of the 32nd Annual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus. Black Caucus members of the House Agricultural Committee spearheaded by Rep. Eva M. Clayton hosted an issue forum entitled, "What has changed for Black farmers?" The panel included both the president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association, Gary Grant, and president of the National Black Farmers Association, John Boyd. In the past Mr. Grant and Mr. Boyd differed on which tactic to use in getting justice for Black farmers. Mr. Grant felt that a class action lawsuit would be the best way to save as many Black farmers’ land under immediate foreclosure threats from the USDA. Mr. Boyd felt that seeking regress for wrongs done by going through the administrative process would get the higher net settlements in cases of discrimination by the USDA.
Mr. Boyd stated, "They have the best programs in place. There’s nothing wrong with the programs, but there’s something wrong with the people who administer the programs across the country." He goes on to point out that although the Black farmers won the largest civil rights lawsuit in the history of this country, not one of the perpetrators of discrimination have been terminated. The Black farmers have to go right back to the very ones that did them wrong in the past.
Mr. Grant said, "The consent decree is between counsel and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, because we protested it to high heaven on the day of the Fairness Hearing. And not one thing that we told Judge Paul Friedman on that day has not come to reality." According to Mr. Grant, so-called educated Blacks must take responsibility for the loss of Black farm land that their poor illiterate fore parents were able to buy up from slavery.
Mr. Boyd and Mr. Grant and their organizations were and are fighting the same enemy, but differ on tactics. Many Black people ask why don’t our Black leaders and organizations unite and present a united front towards the enemy. Both men and members of their organizations are well educated and capable of analyzing the problem. The problem is a USDA conspiracy to steal Black owned farm land. What they differ on is how to fight this beast and what can be expected from this beast.
The administrative root is long and drawn out. Mr. Grant’s family have been fighting their case of discrimination for over 25 years and they still have not received full settlement. A class action lawsuit could bring the quickest and broadest relief IF it had been handled properly by the lawyers. The USDA, however, had no intentions of allowing the farmers to testify in court to a "jury of their peers", so the consent decree was set out of court between the USDA and class counsel under the benign eye of the Federal Court Judge Paul Friedman.
The question of which tactic is the best is not some academic discussion over a beer. The legacy of a race is at steak. Therefore it is no wonder that discussions get hot and feelings get hurt in this war against a master of division. As the clock ticks frustrations increase as the fear of loosing real wealth becomes ominous
"When Black America becomes outraged and stop only blaming the "white robes" in the South and start blaming some ‘blue suits’ and ‘black robes’ in the North, then will we be liberated, then will we get our land back", says Mr. Grant. Black farmers took over a USDA building in July in Tennessee and another one in Arkansas in September demanding removal of employees practicing discrimination, a moratorium on farm foreclosures, cease and desist in taking farm-offset money from farmers, cease and desist in taking IRS tax returns that belong to farmers and to pay the farmers currently in the Pigford v. Veneman Class Action suit.
No action has been taken by the USDA on these demands, instead on September 14th they offered more minority loan money availability and diversity training for employees. These offers were described by Mr. Grant as "hogwash".
The Black farmers had also made two motions to the court in the lawsuit: one was to vacate the Consent Decree and dismiss lead Class Counsel. Both of these motions were denied by Judge Friedman on September 11, 2002.
Just as BFAA is having problems with going the court route, funding for Mr. Boyd’s outreach programs sponsored by the USDA has been threatened in a Republican political move to split BFAA by offering some of this money to a splinter group. State sponsored division of the Black movement is alive and well.
However, on a positive note, the lead counsel for the lawsuit, Al Pires, dropped in on Eva Clayton’s issues forum and although he was not scheduled to speak, he was invited by Rep. John Conyers to use some of his time to speak. Mr. Pires used this opportunity to bemoan how his efforts to help Black farmers has not been received with gratitude by the Black farmers. He also tried to shift responsibility for the outcome of the lawsuit on Black law firms and even tried to implicate such scholars as Dr. Ogletree in the development of the Consent Decree.
In the question and answer period Mr. Pires raised the ire of the Black lawyer on the panel, Mr. James Myart, who accused Pires of stealing his ideas to build his law suit. Mr. Grant and Mr. Boyd were united in their denunciation of Mr. Pires.
So "What has changed for the Black farmers?" "9/11" may go down in the memories of Black farmers as the day that the movement for independence for Black people was born. Black farm organizations, city activists and Black lawyers saw the "snake" in full glory and are now setting strategies to heal their wounds, unite and inspire a sleeping giant to rise above emotionalism, fear and complacency.
Mr. Grant asked the Congressional Black Caucus to get the congress to hold hearings on the conspiracy of USDA, Justice Department and Class Counsel to deprive Black farmers of their land. We add that whether the Congress sets up hearings or not, these entities will be tried in the court of public opinion right here at www.MuhammadFarms.com. In doing so we will begin to answer the question posed by yours truly, Dr. Muhammad, at the forum, "Why is it that the only people who got paid in this law suit are the white monitor, the white lead counsel, the white judge, the white arbitrators; (while) the black lawyers didn’t get paid and the black farmers didn’t get paid?"