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Black Farmers: 40 Acres and a Republicans VS. Democrats Duel August 25, 2010

Image from Library Of Congress- Photographer Dorthea Lange

Farmers are credited with feeding the world and rightly so.  I know this from a visit to The Iowa Living History Farm some ten years ago.  What does Iowa matter?  Boy did the history actors on staff school me.

“IOWA FEEDS THE WORLD,” they instructed. “Everything uses corn.”

Cornmeal, cornflakes,  corn gasoline…

Chances are, you will consume something today that is the direct result of a farmers hard work.  I already have.  This morning I had a packet of dried cranberries.  Thank you cranberry farmers!

Being a native Chicagoan,  I never gave much though to how vegetables got on my dinner table.  My nearest experiences to a farm life were quick visits to the Lincoln Park Zoo or Lambs Farm in Libertyville, IL.   Even then, I never really grasped the enormity of farm life and what it meant to society.  As silly as it may sound, I being the superior city dweller, believed that these people wanted to do what they were doing because they were afraid of the bright lights and big city.  Why would someone want to hoe the earth or milk cows?

Young Afrocity would stay far at the back of a room when cow milking demonstrations interrupted what was a pleasant trip to the zoo.  I didn’t do the agrarian thing.  Do any black people? I wondered.

Within classroom textbooks and cinema, the only images of farmers I saw were Caucasian– that is unless it was someone picking cotton.

When I sang “the Farmer and the Dell” or “Old McDonald”  , I never pictured a black farmer.

And on that farm he had some slaves.. E-I-E-I-OH” were not in the lyrics. “With a massa here and a massa there…

That was the South.  The South was the past. Cotton was the past.

The “Great North” was the future for African Americans- the land of opportunity.

“What? Do I look like I just fell off a turnip truck?”  Grandma would ask whenever she thought she was being fooled.  “Do I look like a dumb farm girl?”

No, she was a smart city girl.

After her great grandmother was freed from slavery, the  future was Chicago.

The future was industry and service.

Pullman porters, postal workers, hotel staff bus drivers. My grandfather was part-time minister/part-time railroad worker.  In the city, a black man could get his hands soiled without ever touching soil.   From what I was told by my mother, her father was very proud that he wore a uniform and not sharecropper’s overalls.   No Mr. Green Jeans for us.  This was a privilege away from the farm to were a uniform.  With uniforms came respect, dignity and a paycheck.

No more picking cotton for free.

We don’t need the farm.

The Great Migration brought blacks into the 20th Century- The machine age.

From 1940-1960 the black population in Chicago increased from 278,000 to 813,000…and they were not farmers.

To acknowledge that many African Americans stayed in the South and perhaps became farmers was not on the radar of my urban family upbringing.  Why stay in the field when we were liberated from it by Abe Lincoln?

But things were not that naive or simple as they were in my ignorant inner-city little brain.

While I was playing hopscotch in the streets of Chicago, some child was growing up to be a black farmer’s daughter. Some woman was a black farmer’s wife and some cow was a black farmer’s cow.

Photo of Sharecropper's wife by Dorthea Lange

“Do you want to try?”  the zoo keeper would ask while sitting on a small stool next to a Holstein dairy cow.

Afrocity backed away but a teacher pushed her forward.

“It is okay,”  promised the zookeeper.

Barely touching the teat,  I closed my eyes as the zookeeper wrapped his hand around mine and guided me through the milking process.   Laughter emitted from my classmates. It was one of the longest minutes of my life.  A few drops of milk went into the bucket.  I was done.  Wiping my hands on my Catholic school uniform skirt, I did my part for agriculture and world sustenance.  But many African Americans would do much, much more to feed the world.

Yes Afrocity, black farmers do exist.

Last night, I was watching Bret Baier on Fox News when his panel lightly touched upon the subject of a billion dollar settlement for black farmers who were discriminated against by the USDA.

According to the farmers and the Democrats, the Republicans are the villains in this piece.

I have always promised my readers that I would call out wrong doing on either side of the political room if I ever saw it.  However, this case is somewhat more complicated than “the Republicans don’t want these black folks to have their settlement money”  as the liberals claim.  It is also not a clear case of “these black folks want to gouge and swindle the taxpayers out of money in the form of denied reparations as some on the right claim.

Photo of protest by National Black Farmers Association

According to their website,  the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) “.. is a non-profit, community organization founded in February of 1995, by John Boyd, Jr., of Baskerville, Virginia, a third generation farmer who is determined to hold on to his heritage, and to save his farm from foreclosure caused by racial discrimination under the United States Department of Agriculture”

John Boyd is the force behind the association and has appeared quite frequently on the mainstream media circuit

I agree that if the USDA did indeed discriminate against these farmers, then a settlement should be made.

Considering the arguments of the right, there is some discrepancy in the number of valid claims. How can there be more claims than black farmers?

President Obama meeting with National Black Farmers Association President, John Boyd

The original case named, Pigford v. Glickman (1997) 400 African-American farmers sued the United States Department of Agriculture, alleging that they had been unfairly denied USDA loans due to racial discrimination during the period 1983 to 1997.

As part of the settlement, in 1999 the government agreed to pay $50,000 each to any farmer who had been wrongly denied an agricultural loan.  What followed was a larger class action law suit. Now somehow the number of black farmers claiming discrimination has grown far beyond the original Pigford v. Glickman litigation.

So conservatives being conservatives want to know how 100% got to be 500%, hence the hold up of the settlement.  It is not about race, it is about proper oversight from the USDA and the Clinton Administration.

From this article in 2The Advocate:

Farmers get settlement details

By MICHELLE MILLHOLLON
Advocate Capitol News Bureau
Aug 25, 2010

Thirteen years ago, Ronald Coleman, of Natchez, Miss., tried to secure money through the federal government to expand his family farm.

Coleman wanted to buy more land to bring his sons into the business of growing soybeans and raising horses.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture rejected his application because of his arrest record. His crime? He was jailed for participating in a civil-rights protest during the 1960s.

On Tuesday, Coleman joined more than 100 black farmers at the Crowne Plaza Hotel to learn the status of a $1.25 billion settlement with the federal government. The settlement stems from a lawsuit that alleged discrimination in the USDA’s handling of loan applications. Payment of the settlement is stalled in the U.S. Senate.

Most farmers who filed claims are eligible for $50,000. Some could receive up to $250,000.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., blamed the delay on Republicans who are against raising revenue to pay the settlement. She urged the farmers to cut through the Republican rhetoric and tell GOP leaders that they are owed the money.

“We have amends to make,” Landrieu said.

The gathering fell on the same day that Shirley Sherrod refused to take a new job with the USDA ironing out the wrinkles in the department’s history of race relations.

Earlier this year, Sherrod, who is black, was ousted as director of rural development in Georgia after a misunderstanding about remarks she made concerning loans for white farmers.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack asked Sherrod Tuesday to take on a role that would boost the agency’s race relations. She declined, telling CNN that she could do little to speed payments of the black farmers’ settlement.

“That’s a tall order. I do not think I would have had that kind of impact,” she said.

The National Black Farmers Association organized Tuesday’s rally to get farmers involved in a push for the U.S. Senate to act on the funding.

Hubert Wiltz, of St. Martinville, said he lost his grandfather’s farm after the federal government failed to act on his loan application.

He said payment of the settlement would at least be an apology.

John Boyd Jr., a Virginia farmer and president of the National Black Farmers Association, urged audience members to call their congressmen, especially the Republican ones.
“We are this close,” he said, holding two fingers together until they were barely touching.

Black Farmers protest in Washington. Associated Press

Looking back at the NBFA website sparks questions.

The organization seems to be solely devoted to the class action suit.  Which maybe fine for now but I wonder if the NBFA does anything else besides advocate for the settlement?  In other words do they perform outreach tasks that go beyond their work with claimants? Do they educate the public on the history of black farmers in America?  Do they support green living?  The website just doesn’t tell me much and if you GOOGLE “black farmer” all you mostly get are links about the law suit.


Also, what constitutes as a black farmer who was discriminated against by the USDA? Does the suit include farmers that decided not to seek federal loans during the accepted cut off period for the original Pigford suit?  Are their farmers who had positive experiences with the USDA? What was the experience of other minority groups and the USDA?   Class action suits can generate a lot of fraud and mismanagement.  Where is the money coming from?  Just saying…  I am not against the black farmers who were rightfully discriminated against- give them their money.  But let’s do it honestly and right.

On the subject of black farmers in other countries, I found this wonderful example in the UK.  The Black Farmer’s Daughter products are organic and gluten free.

The Black Farmer’s Daughter also makes cooking videos using his products and she is adorable.

Autographed Letter Signed,

AFROCITY

For your viewing pleasure here is a short video on black farmers.


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Thirteen years ago, Ronald Coleman, of Natchez, Miss., tried to secure money through the federal government to expand his family farm.

Coleman wanted to buy more land to bring his sons into the business of growing soybeans and raising horses.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture rejected his application because of his arrest record. His crime? He was jailed for participating in a civil-rights protest during the 1960s.

On Tuesday, Coleman joined more than 100 black farmers at the Crowne Plaza Hotel to learn the status of a $1.25 billion settlement with the federal government. The settlement stems from a lawsuit that alleged discrimination in the USDA’s handling of loan applications. Payment of the settlement is stalled in the U.S. Senate.

Most farmers who filed claims are eligible for $50,000. Some could receive up to $250,000.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., blamed the delay on Republicans who are against raising revenue to pay the settlement. She urged the farmers to cut through the Republican rhetoric and tell GOP leaders that they are owed the money.

“We have amends to make,” Landrieu said.

The gathering fell on the same day that Shirley Sherrod refused to take a new job with the USDA ironing out the wrinkles in the department’s history of race relations.

Earlier this year, Sherrod, who is black, was ousted as director of rural development in Georgia after a misunderstanding about remarks she made concerning loans for white farmers.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack asked Sherrod Tuesday to take on a role that would boost the agency’s race relations. She declined, telling CNN that she could do little to speed payments of the black farmers’ settlement.

“That’s a tall order. I do not think I would have had that kind of impact,” she said.

The National Black Farmers Association organized Tuesday’s rally to get farmers involved in a push for the U.S. Senate to act on the funding.

Hubert Wiltz, of St. Martinville, said he lost his grandfather’s farm after the federal government failed to act on his loan application.

He said payment of the settlement would at least be an apology.

John Boyd Jr., a Virginia farmer and president of the National Black Farmers Association, urged audience members to call their congressmen, especially the Republican ones.

“We are this close,” he said, holding two fingers together until they were barely touching.

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7 Responses to “Black Farmers: 40 Acres and a Republicans VS. Democrats Duel”

  1. Mt Champion Says:

    Great article ACB, The questions you ask are valid, and provide a reason to offer answers. The thing is, the MSM won’t touch this case, because ultimately the POTUS will find his hands soiled by this mess. So the underground press marches on as the MSM continues on it’s path to obsolescence. You playing your part to shine the light on a story that is greater than it’s media sound bites.

  2. While I’m not diminishing the suffering of black farmers who have been racially discriminated against, I must say all farmers in this country are treated rather roughly. Most of the population thinks of farmers as ‘stupid hicks’ who can’t do any other kind of work. Very few think about what would happen to them come dinner time if those ‘stupid hicks’ actually did quit farming for more lucrative work. Trust me, very few farmers are in it for the money.

    • afrocity Says:

      Greening, I tried to convey the under-appreciation of farmers in my post. That goes for all races. It is just that among blacks, we have a tendency to think about farming like golf or hockey- only whites do it.

  3. By the By, I love the old photos you put in this post.

  4. yttik Says:

    Good questions, Afrocity. I don’t know the whole story or the inside scoop on these lawsuits.

    Farmers all over the country have traditionally been treated badly by the government. If they’re not struggling to pay taxes on their farms, they’re competing against tax breaks and corporate welfare for big agriculture. There are also developers who often want their land. Were I live one of our big farms was broken up in a government imminent domain claim. They simply wanted to build a school and took his land. He got paid something for it, but not nearly as much as it was worth, and now he doesn’t have a farm.

  5. Shay Riley Says:

    FYI, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones (the entrepreneur behind The Black Farmer products in Britain) is a member of the Conservative Party. He ran for Parliament in Britain’s election some months back, but (barely) lost.

    He also plans to branch out to the United States.

    • afrocity Says:

      Shay, thank you. I knew I liked something about him. He seems so positive. I wondered if the products were at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. I guess the answer is “not yet”.
      Good for him!!!


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