STILL FIGHTING DOWN ON THE FARM
[Col. Writ. 1/14/03] Copyright 2003 Mumia Abu-Jamal
For millions of people who proudly call themselves
"African-Americans", the vast majority have relatives who lived and
worked on farms in the U.S. South, either as sharecroppers (workers
who farmed for others, for a 'share' of the crop or the proceeds), or
farmers whose ancestors fought, and scraped for a patch of land to
call their own.
Black farmers who have been battling for decades against their
treatment at the hands of the Agriculture Department of the U.S.
government have reason to feel that the vaunted civil rights movement
has passed them by. Nothing so clearly highlights the
class-conscious nature of the U.S. civil rights movement as their
objectives to place Blacks in the professions or in jobs in major
industry, and their unwillingness to improve the plight of those who
chose to try their hand at the tilling of the soil.
Now, Black farmers, angry at the meager fruits of 20 years of
class-action litigation, are staging what is becoming their own civil
rights action; protests around the offices of the U.S. Agriculture
Dept., speak-outs and public information campaigns, designed to
educate and inform the people about the situation facing those who
stayed to toil the soil, feed the people, and build a fruitful family
The Black farmers in America are in trouble.
Decades of discriminatory treatment at the hands of the local and
regional offices of the USDA, empty promises by politicians and
courts, and repeated betrayals by those who are sworn to 'protect'
their interests has left them holding the bag--and the bag is
Back in June, 2002, the then-U.S. Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney
(D-Ga.) spoke out openly and clearly about the problems facing them.
In a June 26, 2002 News Brief item on her congressional website*,
McKinney assailed both the Bush Administration and the courts for
their inability, or unwillingness, to reasonably resolve the issues
facing the farmers;
The release of the legal ruling by the three judge panel
of the U.S. District of Columbia Court of Appeals gives
legal credence to our ongoing outrage and disappointment
over the racist and wrongful actions of the Department of
Agriculture (USDA), Department of Justice (DOJ) and the
private lawyers who represented Black farmers in the
Black Farmer Class Action Lawsuit, *Pigford v. Veneman*,
which was supposed to right the wrongs of years of the
USDA's self-admitted discrimination against Black
farmers in the Farm Agency's farm lending programs...
R. Abdul Mu'min Muhammad, a syndicated columnist and spokesman for
the Nation of Islam farms, has written that the situation can be
broken down into two main perspectives; the choice of relief. One
group of farmers elected to use the courts for a class action suit.
The other group wanted to use the USDA's administrative process,
because it was believed this would result in larger individual
What they have learned, however, is that to win a lawsuit is one
thing. To force positive change, is another. The farmers did indeed
win a court action, and it was deemed, according to Muhammad, "the
largest civil rights lawsuit in the history of the country." Yet,
none of the perpetrators has been terminated. Therefore, having won
in a court, the farmers are being forced to contend with the very
personnel they complained about in their future dealings with the
Gary Grant, president of the National Black Farmers and
Agriculturalists Association (BFAA) blasted the consent decree
ordered by the U.S. courts, saying, "The decree was never workable,
causing more than 20,000 Black farmers not to be compensated
adequately for the years of discrimination and the loss of millions
of acres of land and billions of dollars in income because of the
illegal, blatant racist tactics of local FMHA and USDA officials."
The stalwart McKinney, torpedoed by the conservative wing of the
Democratic Party, is no longer a member of Congress, but her words
remain, and should be a spur to action for those of us who perceive
the real worth and potential of farmlands toiled by Black hands for
Black health and wealth. Biting no tongue, she spoke directly to the
problem: "I am outraged at the conduct of the U.S. Department of
Agriculture and the United States Department of Justice Civil
Division. The decision filed by Judge Tatel confirms legally what I
have said for the past three years, these agencies have never had the
intention to correct the horrendous discrimination against Black
As ghettoes continue to swell throughout America's urban areas, the
potential of Black farms cannot be underestimated as an important,
natural resource that can positively impact on the daily lives and
well-being of millions.
Often, those in the inner city must pay the most money for the least
fresh, and least nutritious, of life-giving foods. An intelligent
program of economic assessment and regional planning, which routes
the produce from those farms to the neighborhoods where the goods may
be best utilized, can heal two breaches--urban malnutrition and
economic self-sustenance--at the same time.
To solve the Black farmer problem may mean, ultimately, to solve our
Copyright 2003 Mumia Abu-Jamal
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