Volume 4, Number 8                                February 18, 2001

The Farmer


"3/5ths, But Still Men"

by Dr. Ridgely A. Mu’min Muhammad

A two day workshop was held by the Federation of Southern Cooperatives in Albany, GA on Friday and Saturday of last week, February 9th and 10th. On Friday the monitor, for the Pigford Vs Glickman class action lawsuit, Randi Roth, was in attendance to update farmers on the status of the lawsuit and interview individual farmers who had not received payment or had been denied.

According to the USDA’s website of the 21,202 applications that were accepted for processing 60.4% were ruled in favor of the claimant and 39.6% were denied. In other words 3/5ths were approved and 2/5ths denied which is the same ratio that the Constitution used to count Black people to determine the number of representatives a state would have in the House of Representatives. The number of House seats plus the number of Senate seats then determine how many Electors each state would have in the Electoral College which chooses the president.

Interestingly an article done in the June 7, 1999 Newsweek magazine on the Status of Black America revealed that the median income for a family of four for Blacks was $35,000 per year but for Whites was $58,000 per year, or 3/5ths. This ratio of 3/5ths continues like the bass drum in a march. The underlying tone is set.

We had a chance to interview 29 farmers at the event in Albany and discovered that only 3 had been approved, 3 did not know their status but 23 were denied. We categorized these 23 denials into 13 possible categories but found that 15 of these denials was either because there was "no substantial evidence of discrimination", 8 or the farmer had picked the wrong "similarly situated white farmer", 7. So I asked the monitor for the settlement, Randi Roth, could she help these 15 farmers.

"Sometimes the monitor will reverse and sometimes we won’t". Now in case of the similarly situated white farmer she said. "What the word similar means to the adjudicator is not necessarily what it means to the monitor..." Many people lost on the similarly situated white farmer however, "It is in the consent decree and it is not something that can change now. But the judge wrote in his opinion that he thought that class counsel would have the information about white farmers for people but it turned out that class counsel did not have it." In other words, Al Pires left a loophole in the consent decree that he was supposed to fill in, but he did not, leaving the individual black farmers with the burden of finding out which white farmers got loans from FmHA without having access to those white farmers’ records in the USDA office.

When the leadership of BFAA read that consent decree two days after it was submitted on November 3, 1998, they begged the judge in March of 1999 not to accept that line about the "similarly situated white farmer". However, the farmers own lead attorney, Al Pires, did not demand that the wording be changed and the judge signed the decree as written in April of 1999 and now the worst fears of the Black farmers has come to pass, 40% have been denied.

The "devil is in the details" and the Black farmers got the shaft. However, although treated like slaves and 3/5ths of a citizen they are continuing to fight to be productive citizens in the land that they and their forefathers enhanced.

According to Gary Grant, President of BFAA, "Al Pires and the USDA and the other "beltline bandits" around Washington have not finished hearing from us yet. That is a promise."


Click here to learn more about the lawsuit-->Perfect Crime