Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Persistence Yields Rewards for African American Farmers

The National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) sought $2.5 billion for its suit against the US Department of Agriculture for racially discriminatory practices of the federal farm credit program but agrees to $1.25 billion on the condition the funds are appropriated by March 31, 2010. This money bundles $100 million from a 2008 Congressional allocation and $1.15 billion from President Barack Obama.

The struggle for admission of wrongdoing against African American farmers by the US Department of Agriculture and restitution began in 1984, when 50 African American farmers united in a class action suit called Pigford v. Glickman. “Many, at least twenty, have died,” remarks Boyd. This case is a study in persistence and strategic action.

“At the turn of the 20th century, there were one million black farmers whose aggregate land ownership amounted to 20 million acres. The turn of the 21st century finds the US with 35,000 full time African American farmers working 3 million acres,” states Boyd. John Boyd is a third generation farmer who operates a chicken farm in Baskerville, VA. The African American farmers attribute the reduction, in part, to the long term USDA farm credit program practices.

The farmers were hard pressed for media coverage of their plight, therefore they took action by forming the National Black Farmers Association in 1995, holding marches and rallies and taking their class action suit from state to state until a favorable decision was rendered in Washington, DC by Judge Freedman in 1997. It would be several more years when two Web sites would go live.

This issue experienced major stalls in the political process. It took time to get a Congressional Committee to bring it to the Congressional floor to get funding appropriated. NBFA’s major opponent is US Rep. Steve King (IA). Congressman King attends all Capitol Hill hearings on finding discriminatory practices in the federal farm credit program, restitution and the size of financial award. "He makes claims that claimants aren’t farmers; we should be glad we live in the US and there’s no discrimination in USDA farm credit practices,” explains Boyd.

The previous award stalled at the stage of release of funds. These events occurred during George W. Bush's administration. It was US President Barack Obama that agreed to meet with NBFA president John Boyd at the top of his term to get closure on an issue redressing discrimination and lost opportunities. The National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) sought $2.5 billion for its suit against the US Department of Agriculture for racially discriminatory practices of the federal farm credit program but agrees to $1.25 billion on the condition the funds are appropriated by March 31, 2010. This money bundles $100 million from a 2008 Congressional allocation and $1.15 billion from President Barack Obama.

These funds haven’t been released because the US Congress hasn’t appropriated it. Rather than tilling the land, NBFA president John W. Boyd, Jr. spends much time on Capitol Hill pressing Majority Leader US Rep. Nancy Pelosi and US Senator Harry Reid to move the 2010 Farm Bill, currently attached to a supplemental bill to what is termed “a moving bill.” Moving bills most desired are American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or FEMA Katrina Flood Recovery.

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is supportive of this cause. It was US Rep. John Conyers (MI) chairing of the Judiciary Committee that brought the bill to the Congressional floor, July 8, 2007. Other supportive CBC members include Robert Scott (VA), Artur Davis (AL), Sanford Bishop, Jr. (GA), Bennie Thompson (MS), Maxine Waters (CA), Edolphus Towns (NY), James Clyburn (SC), and TK Butterfield (NC).

“But poor black farmers that don’t have money for lobbyists or campaign donations have to take the fight to the streets,” says Boyd. Late February through early March 2010, NBFA led ten marches in such towns as Montgomery, AL, Jackson, MS, Columbus, GA and Memphis, TN wherein 1,300 – 2,500 people participated at each place.

The National Black Farmers Association will not rest until the 2010 Farm Bill is attached to a moving bill that gets passed in the Congress and Senate before March 31, 2010 and finally, $50,000 is distributed to each claimant plus debt relief or up to $250,000 for claims of actual damages from the bias. The settlement doesn’t have a set aside for farm startup. If March 31 finds the $1.25 billion un-appropriated, the farmers have the option to demand the original $2.5.billion from the USDA.

NBFA’s existence and struggle reminds the public that African Americans are agriculturists and business people. NBFA is an example of African American fortitude yielding results. Stay abreast of the black farmers’ activities by visiting www.blackfarmers.org and www.johnboydjr.com.

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