Volume 2, Number 7 October 21, 1999
Another Slap in the Face
by Dr. Ridgely A. Mu'min Muhammad
How long will this government continue to slap Black farmers in the face and thumb its collective nose at Black people. Although the government through the media has given the impression that Black farmers have gotten $50,000, the fact remains that not one dime has been rewarded. And if the hearing that was just conducted is an indication of the government's intent, there will be few Black farmers that will get anything from the lawsuit supposedly settled on November 3, 1998 ("Black Tuesday"). On October 14, 1999 the House Agricultural Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry invited six Black farmers and their representatives to testify in a "Hearing to Review USDA's Civil Rights Programs and Responsibilities". The hearings lasted for four hours but only one hour was given hear the testimony of the six Black farmers while three hours was wasted listening to Ms. Rosalind D. Gray, Director, Office of Civil Rights, USDA. Maybe we should not say wasted, because certain things were made quite clear. Number one she does not have any authority to grant settlements to the farmers, punish USDA employees who discriminate against Black farmers, expedite the process of settling claims of discrimination against the USDA or for that matter doing anything about the plight of the Black farmer. So one wonders why was she given three hours to continually say, "No sir. I don't have those figures with me, but we will get them to you as soon as possible."
Speaking on behalf of the Black farmers were Stephon J. Bowens, John Boyd, James E. Tatum, George Hall, Lucius Abrams and Gary R. Grant. Mr. Bowens, Executive Director, Land Loss Prevention Project, pointed out that from 1994 to 1999 the Office of Inspector General found that of the 17 settlement agreements and 84 conciliation agreements reached with individual farmers complaining of discrimination who did not participate in the class action suit, "...only 2 letters of reprimand have been issued." No one has been terminated for discrimination against Black farmers and according to Ms. Rosalind Gray, she does not have access to the applications of the Black farmers in the class action suit which would allow her to determine whether disciplinary actions should be taken against field representatives of USDA. However, latter in her testimony she stated that they have already sent to the Justice Department names of people filing false claims in the lawsuit. So the question is, does she have access to the applications or not?
Here are some of the facts: 1. 40% of the applications in the lawsuit have been rejected for such reasons as the "similarly situated white farmer" that the Black farmer chose did not get a loan from FmHA in the same year that the Black farmer applied.
2. Black farmers in some areas have been denied access to their own FmHA records, yet their applications have been rejected based on information from those same records. 3. Out of over 40,000 requests for applications there may be no more than 100 Track B cases which could demand more than the $50,000 proposed settlement. 4. The estimation of a farmer's economic damages in Track B is being based on his historical yields, while these same yields were made low because of prior discrimination by the USDA before 1981. 5. Black farmers are being asked to prove that they were discriminated against while most did not, and do not, know what they were entitled to, because to the biased program information delivery system.
In fact one of the House Committee members stated that he has never seen as much red tape as in agricultural programs. He stated that "... there are subheading and subparagraphs and special clauses that makes it almost impossible to know what is going on." And from this hearing it was quite obvious that not even this committee knew who was in charge of hiring or firing field staff at the USDA or who had the authority to give the Black farmers a check if they won their case of discrimination. Mr. John Boyd, President, National Black Farmers Association, recommended the county committee system be modernized by "...converting all county non-Federal FSA positions, including county executive directors, to Federal status..." At present USDA programs are administered by local county staff that are appointed or dismissed by a county committee that is made up of "good old boys", with a token Black farmer every now and then who does not have a vote. In other words, we have a clear case of taxation without representation where Black people's tax money is given away by white men to each other in the face of a Black man who is supposed to smile.
Mr. James Tatum, representing the Rural America Association of Community Based Organizations, pointed out that the USDA have failed miserably in its delivery of information and program benefits to Black farmers. He stated that "...problems of Civil Rights and discrimination are not new and are not unknown at USDA. Studies and reports have documented the problems dating back from 1965 through 1997. Despite this documentation and open discussions about the need to eliminate discrimination in program delivery and employment, it continues to exist to a large degree unabated at USDA."
Mr. Lucius Abrams, one of the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit, basically pleaded to the committee that somebody do something because the Black farmers in this lawsuit are suffering more now from the hands of USDA officials and local lenders than they were suffering before the lawsuit. He stated that he could not understand how this country could set back and allow this type of persecution, misrepresentation, false promises and out right lies to continue.
Mr. George Hall, a farmer from Alabama, read the letter which denied his son a portion of the settlement. Mr. Hall said that he was confused because the letter denied him on the basis that he did not prove that he had applied for a loan even though that same letter admitted earlier that he had applied for a loan. Everyone in attendance was also confused although there were only two committee members present to hear the farmers while there were over nine present to hear the USDA's side of the story.
Many Black farmers who had just been to Washington in September for the Congressional Black Caucus, traveled again to Washington, DC at their own expense to attend this hearing only to be snubbed by the House of Representatives Agricultural committee. Out of nine committee members who were present to hear the presentation from the USDA, only two of them elected to stay and hear what the Black farmers had to say. This is the same, turning a "deaf ear" to the Black community that has caused so much distrust for those charged with weighing the balance for justice.
Mr. Gary Grant, President of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalist Association, seemed to sum up the sentiment of the Black farmers by stating, "This whole class action settlement is a farce and a sham. The harrowing stories continue to come in; USDA former officials being trained to complete the packages of the farmers and in some states telling the farmer, 'I know your case. There is no need for you to apply.' " Many Black farmers were denied loan applications in the past from these same officials who told Black farmers that then need not apply because they had given out all the money to their white friends. He further stated that "...the so called $50,000, which USDA and its Civil Rights Department have convinced the rest of the nation that Black farmers have already gotten, is no where near an amount to put any farmer back into farming nor remove the "bad" debt and bad credit gained from this racist government agency's mess." Mr. Grant further questioned whether the government through its persistent slaps in the face was trying to provoke violence, because the Black farmers are running out of "cheeks to turn".
Mr. Gary Grant brought along Dr. Ridgely Muhammad, the Agricultural Economist for B.F.A.A. with detailed grafts and charts to prove his case, but the committee felt obligated to cut the farmers' presentations short and run out. This was blatant slap in the face considering how much time they gave one USDA official earlier that morning. These charts were to serve to give hands on information to further educate, especially committee members, of the history and current plight of Black farmers and their loss of land at the hands of the USDA and its employees.
The charts and graphs would have shown them how the USDA changed definitions of farm ownership to hide the loss of black farm land. The tables would have shown them how almost $1 million of loan money earmarked for Black farmers in one south Georgia county wound up in the hands of five white farmers. The tables would have shown them how all of the Black farmers that dealt with FmHA were put out of business while white farmers are still farming with hundreds of thousands of tax payers money in there pockets, a gift from the USDA. He brought graphs that would have shown them how the southern white farmers weathered the debt crisis of the early 1980's better than there Midwestern counterparts, because they had access to funds earmarked for Black farmers and could steal Black farmers' land while the USDA turned its back. The committee did not want the hidden agenda of the government exposed, which has been to deprive Black people of their land, herd them in the cities, then poison them slowly with chemically treated and genetically engineered food.
The "crisis" of the Black farmer is over. "Crisis" means "... the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever." Mr. Gary Grant pointed out that Mr. Glickman and Mr. Al Gore were in the House in the early 1980's when the crisis of the Black farmer was presented to them by Representative Towns from New York. They did nothing then and they are stalling now. Most of the 30,000 are more applicants for this lawsuit have already been put out of farming and put out to pasture. This settlement will not bring them out of retirement nor will it be an incentive for their children or grand children to enter this once noble occupation.
The Black farmers' lawsuit settlement tendered on November 3, 1998 ("Black Tuesday") in response to the large black turnout at the polls, although a step in the right direction, is not a just, equitable and reasonable solution to repairing an industry that was destroyed by the U.S.D.A. Black farmers who did nothing wrong, but work hard and trust their government, were deprived of life, liberty and property while their children who were forced into the cities were being shot down and cast into prisons as "menaces 2 society". The "Crisis of the Black farmer" is over. The question now becomes, "And what will his city cousins eat?"
If you have any questions, please e-mail Dr. Ridgely A. Mu'min Muhammad at firstname.lastname@example.org