Volume 11, Number 3                                            November 16, 2007

The Farmer

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From ‘White Robes’ to Black Robes: Hanging nooses, stealing land

by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Mu’min Muhammad

Lynching has taken on a more sophisticated appearance since the hay day of racists who hid their identity behind ‘white robes’ as they terrorized a whole people off of their land. There has been a new rash of ‘hangman’s nooses’ displayed on high school and college campuses. When a group of Black boys in Jena, LA would not be intimidated by such a display, the new cowards now hiding behind "black robes", sitting where justice should sit, saw fit to put these Black boys in jail.

When thousands rallied to protest the judge’s decision, this Louisiana White man in a"black robed" decided to find another reason to put one of the 6 defendants, Mychal Bell, back in jail on another charge. It is good that Black people are responding to the "hanging of nooses". However, that kind of noose may hang one Black person, but the stealing of land affects a whole people. We must begin to understand the brand of "high tech lynching" occurring beneath the radar screen of our ‘righteous indignation’. Take the Grant Family for example.

The Grant Family along with nine other Black farmers was first foreclosed on in 1976 by the Halifax County, NC FmHA office after three years of county wide disasters. The Grant family decided to fight rather than give in to the loss of home, farm, equipment and a way of life. The Grants were a mere $10,000.00 delinquent with a farm operation, in good years, grossing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

Matthew and Florenza Moore Grant were the parents of six children, pillars of the community, strong on their faith and participants in their respective churches. The Grants signed a Consent Judgment against their property in 1981 in an agreement that USDA would release farm equipment and the Grants would withdraw a discrimination law suit. This according to USDA was a "settlement of sorts" that would allow the Grants to continue farming and move on with their lives, but the USDA refused to work with them or their five grown children on a means of repayment of the delinquent amount. According to one of the Grant children, Gary, Matthew Grant was actually told by the FmHA District Director, "It does not matter who you go to see, who you bring or what plan you come with, we are going to sale you out." Mr. Grant further believes that they wanted to take their land because approximately 100 acres of the Grant Family farmland boarders the Roanoke River in Tillery, NC, a prime area for development.

The Grants like many other farmers filed Civil Rights Complaints with USDA that were never really acted on. In 1997 when the Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association (BFAA) was formed, it was Matthew Grant who pushed his community group, the Concerned Citizens of Tillery (CCT), to unite its Land Loss Fund with BFAA. This was done and the two groups moved forward in supporting the Pigford vs. Glickman class action law suit.

However, the Grants continued on their Administrative Process. On March 2 and 4, 1998, before the Pigford vs Glickman Consent Decree was brokered, Matthew Grant and USDA Civil Rights officers signed a "FINAL RESOLUTION AGREEMENT" which was to give the Grant family $350,000 and debt write off. However, this is now November of 2007 and the Grant family has not received the payment nor the debt write off.

When there seemed to be no settlement for the family, Matthew and Florenza Grant, in October of 2000, became named plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit comprised primarily of North Carolina women and African American farmers. The case is called Wise et. al, v. Veneman, and is presently pending before the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. At this point, again, the Department of Justice (DOJ) denied their attorney or the Grant family to hold legitimate talks with the USDA to get this case settled.

Upon the death of Matthew and Florenza Moore Grant, their son Gary R. Grant and other heirs attempted to seek a settlement. The requirement by DOJ was that the family withdrew from the Wise et.al, v. Veneman law suit, which the family was willing to do, but not "with prejudice" as the DOJ was requiring.  However, knowing the reputation of USDA, the Grant Children would not accept that but were willing to withdraw "without prejudice," meaning if they could not get a settlement with USDA they could return to the courts for justice.

To withdraw "with prejudice" means you cannot bring such charges again. This is something that every Black farmer in Pigford agreed to basically when they agreed that no matter what the finding, they gave up all rights to pursue any other solutions to their case, and many of them did not understand this.

The Grants have maintained records since their struggle began in 1976, including hand written notes taken during meetings and all correspondence to them and by them over this 31 year period. They actually have an "archive" of information on their struggle and openly talk about it and the documents.

Now the Justice Department in a final attempt to take the land from the Grant family has issued a "Writ of Execution" to be served on November 20, 2007 in the Federal Court in Raleigh, NC.  A "writ of execution" commands the Grant family to satisfy the judgment by levying on and selling all property in which defendants have a substantial nonexempt interest, and by executing upon the family farm property. This means the Court can order the sale of the Grant property right out from under them unless they satisfy a judgment signed by their father in 1981 for $54,503.81 that is now, with interest, billed at $192,456.55.

However, if the USDA would just pay the $350,000 owed to the Grant family, then they could pay the judgment. The Grant family is caught in the same type of "catch 22" situation that has and still is forcing many Black farmers and their families off of the properties bought by their ancestors.

When the "Farmer's Newsletter" published the article "Cloned meat is old meat" some of you may have thought that we were "crying wolf." Recently the governor of California has made it legal to put cloned lamb on the grocery shelves with no label indicated that it is cloned meat. The saying of "a wolf in sheep’s clothing" has been brought up to the modern era of genetic weapons manufacturing.

Everyone might not want to be a farmer, but a people should have the right to farm and defend themselves against chemical and biological warfare. The Grant family needs our help and support. The President of the United States with a flick of his pen can stop any foreclosures on the Grant family farm property. Our first step should be a letter writing campaign to the President to use his executive powers to stop this pending foreclosure and force the USDA to live up to the piece of paper it signed in 1998. An example of such a letter can be downloaded at both www.muhammadfarms.com and www.bfaa_us.org.

The struggle of the Black farmers to keep their land and grow us some wholesome food continues and we must show our support to the Grant Family and other Black farm families in general. Write to this President, the modern "Pharaoh" to give him one last chance to do the right thing and set our farmers free from the ‘last Plantation’, the USDA. However, history shows that "Pharaohs" do not generally understand "right", only might. Today, racists wear "black robes" and killers hide within our food. We must organize and take to the streets before we lie dead in the streets killed by the laboratory designed "wolves in sheep’s clothing", while our land is snatched from beneath our feet by "high tech lynchers".

Click here for copy of Letter to President Bush