black farmers

Black Farmers Continue Pressing USDA and Obama Administration and Supreme Court for Justice.

By Barrington M. Salmon Aug. 7, 2016

For more than two decades, Black farmers have driven tractors to Capitol Hill and walked the halls of Congress, coaxing, cajoling and confronting lawmakers.

They have also filed lawsuits, protested and demonstrated. All of this an effort to correct an admittedly egregious legacy of racism and discrimination by the US Department of Agriculture.

Despite high profiled settlements several years ago, just last month, three dozen farmers and their supporters from Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kentucky descended on the steps of the United States Supreme Court. At the rally and demonstration, the protesters promised to fight until they’re heard and one of their members, Bernice Atchison, filed a writ with the Supreme Court.

“[Former USDA Secretary Dan] Glickman acknowledged that the agency had discriminated against Black farmers. We have dealt with bias, discrimination and double standards,” said Georgia Farmer Eddie Slaughter in front of the court. “We had supervised accounts which meant they had power over our money and county loan officers discriminated against Black farmers. It’s been nothing but fraud, deceit and breach of contract. Our damages are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. They have persecuted us and now, 35-40 percent of Black farmers have been run out of the business. They were supposed to return one and a half million acres of land to Black farmers but didn’t.”

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Slaughter concluded, “We’re here to say Black farmers of 2016 are the Dred Scott of 1857. He demanded to be free. The fraud and corruption amounts to economic terrorism against Black farmers. We don’t have anyone standing up for us. The Congressional Black Caucus or President Obama could have created a national investigative commission. But they’ve done nothing. Equal justice under the law does not exist in this.”

Bernice Atchison, president of Black Farmers of Alabama, agreed as she recounted her long ordeal since the USDA seized and sold 239 acres of family land.

“My husband’s father died and they sold the land on the steps of the courthouse,” she explained as she held an armful of folders. “I’ve been fighting since 1983. I’m 78 years old. It’s been a long time for me. I have enough evidence that it would take a truck to haul it away. I walked the halls of the Capitol Hill with (the late) John Boyd, going from office-to-office.”

In 2004, Congress asked Atchison to testify before a subcommittee.

“They said my face was the face of the 66,000 Black farmers who’d been denied and said my due process had been violated,” She recalled. “Congress called me as an expert eyewitness before them and a judge gave me standing in the court. I’m the most impacted but I haven’t been paid. They’re punishing me. We’re asking for justice not a set amount.”

Atchison said she has a case on the docket that she filed in 2014. But, she says she and her colleagues have hit a brick wall.

“It’s been 20 years that farmers have been saying that they’ve been mistreated and we’re still losing land,” said Gary R. Grant, president of the Black Farmers & Agriculturists Association & The Land Loss Fund. “Where we had one million farmers, that number is down to 20,000. Many farmers feel a sense of helplessness, a number are suffering from disease and health issues we’ve never dealt with such as diabetes and high blood pressure. They’re wiping us out. The land isn’t disappearing. It’s been stolen from us.”

Grant said there has been no Congressional investigation into the assortment of alleged abuses by local farm service agencies.

“Not a single employee at USDA has lost their job,” said Grant. “Between 1981 and 1996, 64 percent of Black farmers have (disappeared) and only one person was forced to retire but with full benefits.”

Repeated attempts to secure comments and reaction from the USDA were not successful. However, a 1994 USDA study examined the treatment of racial minorities and women as the agency was weathered allegations of pervasive racial discrimination in the way its employees handled applications for farm loans and grants to primarily Southern black farmers. Between 1990 and 1995, researchers found that “minorities received less than their fair share of USDA money for crop payments, disaster payments, and loans.”

The final report noted that the USDA gave corporations 65 percent of loans, while 25 percent of the largest payments went to White male farmers. Further, 97 percent of disaster payments went to White farmers, with less than 1 percent reaching black farmers.

The study highlighted “gross deficiencies” in the way the USDA collected and handled data which muddied the reasons for the discrepancies in treatment between Black and White farmers in such a manner that the reasons couldn’t easily be determined.

Carol Estes, in a story about the travails of Black farmers in a Yes! Magazine article headlined, “Second Chance for Black Farmers,” details one of the many challenges.

Estes reports, “The USDA does provide a remedy for farmers who believe they’ve been treated unfairly: They can file a claim with the agency’s civil rights complaint office in Washington, DC,” she said. “There’s a hitch, though. Ronald Reagan shut down that office in 1983, and the USDA never informed farmers. So for the next 13 years, until the office was reopened by the Clinton administration, black farmers’ complaints literally piled up in a vacant room in the Agriculture building in Washington.”

The farmers who congregated in front of the Supreme Court cited figures ranging from 14,000 to 40,000 cases they say the USDA has failed to process. The official put in charge of unblocking the bottleneck is a part of the problem because he’s made no effort to facilitate the processing of the backed up claims, they charge.

The farmers have received two settlements, Pigford I and II, class action lawsuits which together have allocated about $2.25 billion to tens of thousands of Black farmers. The first lawsuit was settled in April 1999 by US District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman. And in December 2010, Congress appropriated $1.2 billion for 70,000 additional claimants.

The judgment was the largest civil rights settlement in this country’s history. While some see the settlement as a victory, for most Black farmers it’s bitter-sweet because the settlement payments aren’t enough to buy farm equipment, give farmers long-term comfort; and in no way makes up for the destruction of rural Black communities and the theft of land by government officials, they say.

For example, the farmers detailed the travails of Eddie and Dorothy Wise, North Carolina farmers who were forced off their 106-acre farm in January by 14 heavily armed sheriffs and federal marshals. They said this happened without the couple being granted any hearing. Wise, a 67-year-old retired Green Beret and his wife, a retired grants manager, lived on their farm for more than 20 years. After being evicted, the Wises lost their property and are living in a hotel. A GoFundMe page is soliciting help for the family. Supporters have raised $6,000 toward the $50,000 goal.

“Nothing has been done to enhance the opportunities and fairness. What they’ve been doing is working to manipulate and separate the black farmer from his community where he lives, and critically himself,” said Grant.

Lawrence Lucas, who worked with the federal government for 38 years, said little has changed at the agency.

“There’s a reason why they call the USDA ‘the last plantation.’ The civil rights problems there have not been fixed,” said Lucas, president emeritus of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees. “Ninety-seven percent of Black farmers did not get the debt relief promised in the agreement. Things are not better, which is why we have to stand up.”

The farmers said the White House, the US Department of Justice, Congress, the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights leaders have done little to bring this long-running saga to a close.

“Cases have not been processed and no investigation has been undertaken,” Lucas said.

Oklahoma resident Muhammad Robbalaa said he was at the rally “because a fighter doesn’t quit.”

He said, “I have an older brother who lost his land in 1983. He had a stroke after we fought a battle with the State Supreme Court,” said Robbalaa, 75. “They ruled that it was other folks land and they gave it to White folks. I’m still in the cattle business and my daughters have come back and joined the business. I originally owned 250 acres of land but now I’m on leased land.”

Grant, Slaughter, Atchison and the other farmers said the government has colluded, nothing’s changed, they are further victimized and the land they own continues to be seized and stolen.

“People think that Pigford and $50,000 settled all our issues, but it hasn’t. You can’t even buy a tractor with just that,” Grant said. “They continue to take and foreclose Black farmers. The (lawsuit) assured us a hearing before foreclosure and that has not happened. All we want is justice and equality.”

BLACK FARMERS PROTEST AT UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

THE AMERICAN AGRICULTURALIST ASSOCIATION

Eddie Slaughter, President

P.O. BOX 0761

ASHBURN, GA. 31714

229-649-2243

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

SUBJECT: BLACK FARMERS PROTEST AT UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

                        “Are Black Farmers in 2016 the New Dred Scott of 1857?”

 

On Friday, July 8, 2016 at 9:00 am, farmers from the Southern Region and others who believe in justice and equality will descend on the U. S. Supreme Court to once again seek and demand justice through the courts and to bring to light and awareness of the unfairness of the settlement of the Pigford Class Action, and the continued discrimination by the USDA, “The Last Plantation”. The theme is “Are Black Farmers in 2016 the New Dred Scott of 1857?”.

 

The protest will be held on the First Street NE sidewalk directly in front of the Supreme Court.  The complaint at the Supreme Court is regarding Eddie and Dorothy Wise, farmers from North Carolina, who were foreclosed on and evicted from their 106 acre farm on January 20, 2016 by 14 militarily armed Federal Marshals and several Nash County, North Carolina deputy sheriffs without ever being granted a hearing.  Farmers Eddie Wise is a retired Green Beret and his wife Dorothy Wise is a retired Grants’ Manager.  The Wise’s situation is akin to the Dred Scott Decision of March 6, 1857 (http://www.ushistory.org/us/32a.asp) because Black farmers are still being denied full due process.  This is one of the most important issues that should be brought before the United States Supreme Court.

 

While many people in this country think that Black farmers across the nation got justice during the Pigford Class Action (Pigford v. Glickman 1999), the opposite is the truth.  Black farmers who have been discriminated against by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) formerly called Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) continue to be put out of farming, denied opportunities to make a living, and lose land that impacts the quality of life for them and the rural Black communities in which they live.

 

The time has long expired on the unremitting discrimination and breach of The Pigford Consent Decree. Black Farmers are continuously denied due process; in particular, a right to have a formal hearing on the merits of their case before the Administrative Law Judge of The USDA.  Congress has expressed its intent for the Agency to hold the formal hearing on the merits in the 2007 Pigford Remedy Act which was incorporated in the 2008 Food Energy and Conservation Act or “Farm Bill.” In addition, the USDA is denying all claims and hearings by Black Farmers, Women Farmers, Hispanic Farmers, and Native American Farmers. This denial of the formal hearing before the Administrative Law Judge allows 180 days for the Agency to correct its own mistakes is unlawful, unjust and contrary to Congressional Intent pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act and The Pigford Consent Decree.

 

If you are a supporter of justice and equality, support Black Farmers, seek healthy and safe food, join with the Black Farmers and Eddie and Dorothy Wise, other speakers from the American Agriculturalists Association, the North Carolina-based national Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association (BFAA), The Cowtown Foundation, Lawrence Lucas, President Emeritus, USDA Coalition of Minority Employees, and others to bring this issue before the United States Supreme Court. These farmers are asking the question… “Are Black Farmers in 2016 the New Dred Scott of 1857

UPDATE ON FARMER EDDIE WISE: Moral Failure – The Buying of the Wise Farm

BLACK FARMERS AND AGRICULTURIST ASSOCIATION
April 5, 2016
Eddie and Dorothy Wise’s farm was purchased by a neighboring white farmer for $260,000 at a public, forced, auction yesterday. The farm was sold as part of a foreclosure despite an established pattern of discrimination by local county FSA agents, a global expression of concern, a concerted effort of local advocates, and a Color of Change petition of 30,000 signatures calling for a halt to the foreclosure. We are heartsick, emotionally exhausted, and angry at this callous disregard for the livelihood of one of our brothers and sisters and their family. We also find it morally reprehensible.

Eddie Wise and his dogs.
This post isn’t meant to summarize all that has been going on with this tragedy. Read up on this page https://www.facebook.com/BFAA.org/ to learn more details. When you do, you’ll find a lot of support among not only the Black farming community, but other groups and individuals concerned with the disappearance of the family farmer in this country and around the world. You’ll also find a handful of folks who ask questions and wonder about the financial skills and practices of the Wises. We want to take a minute to address this latter group because they reveal a hidden iceberg of suspicion and doubt that is a handmaiden of white supremacy and oppression.
For these folks, there is always suspicion that Black folks are trying to pull a fast one, to get over, or otherwise get something undeserved and unearned through hard work. A damning criticism indeed in our society of believers in the fabled Horatio Alger story of upward mobility. In that story, success is earned through hard work, thrift, and discipline, a set of morally imbued characteristics that suggest character and virtue. So, by extension, those who suffer, are poor or otherwise not successful, are seen somehow as moral failures. They have, in this narrative, a character flaw, a defect. They are, somehow, morally deficient. The problem is, the characters in Horatio Alger’s novels were inventions just like the myth of the American Dream. Myths are powerful things, though, and serve important functions. They provide guidance just as frequently as they conceal truth. They don’t, however, describe reality. To view the Wise case as a personal failing is to ignore historical evidence, subscribe to a false notion of individualism, and support racializing views that reinforce white supremacy.
Fact. Financial hardships and bailouts are everyday occurrences in modern agriculture, finance, and industry – recall the bank bailouts of 2009. Icons of success receive innumerable forms of assistance that directly contradict their self-proclaimed Horatio Alger narratives.
Fact. Eddie and Dorothy Wise, like Black people across the US, were treated unfairly in matters directly affecting the securing and operating of their farm.
To ask questions about why they missed payments, incurred so much debt, weren’t able to market their goods, etc. is to completely miss the point. Farmers and business people everywhere have financial struggles, only non-white folks also experience discrimination. The burdens of small producers everywhere are daunting. Pile on discrimination and it is impossible.
But even worse, to ask these questions is to embrace a view of Black Americans that relies on racial stereotypes, fears, and a wholly imaginary white pathway. That white pathway, like the Horatio Alger stories, says that “I’m successful because of my effort. I didn’t get any help. I made tough choices.” It’s harmful and inaccurate to believe that story because it is applied in the reverse to the unsuccessful, impoverished, or destitute. Without knowing anything about others, it is too easy to simply say that those who aren’t successful must not be doing something right. They must not be working hard enough, be thrifty enough, or have enough personal character. These beliefs are factually unsupported, but mythically powerful things. That is, there simply isn’t evidence to support that the impoverished are lazy, unmotivated, or otherwise deficient, let alone morally deficient. Even more, it is harmful to assert the validity of the white pathway because it simply isn’t true. Hard work is great, but it isn’t the sole or primary purview of white people. It simply doesn’t explain the differences in poverty rates by race. In fact, there are many more poor white people than poor people of color in the US. The rates are higher for non-whites, but the numbers are clearly higher for whites. Rates of poverty, interestingly, are historically higher in rural areas than urban areas. These rural areas are overwhelmingly white. So, to impugn Eddie and Dorothy Wise’s financial practices is to enlist a host of familiar stereotypes, ignore the profound history of racial inequality, and reinforce a mythical imaginary of white success.
The white neighbor who bought Eddie’s farm has had his eye on that property since 1993. Unsurprisingly he wanted to acquire neighboring property. During the farm crisis of the 1980s it was largely seen as bad form to try and purchase a struggling neighbor’s place. Why? Because, as members of a community, folks were to exercise restraint when faced with opportunities that came through the suffering of others. These values stemmed from a lot of things including the social bonds that emerge among community members, the engagement in shared forms of work, and, for many, deeply held Christian beliefs. The purchase of your struggling neighbor’s farm might happen, but only under extraordinary circumstances. To actively pursue it represented a moral failure.
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Eddie Wise Farm Sale Flyer
At the sale of the Wise farm there were two bidders. It turns out they were working together. One of the bidders was Eddie and Dorothy’s neighbor, the other had no intention of buying the property and simply served to help get the price to a “fair” level. Under normal foreclosure proceedings the person losing their farm typically has around 10 days to make a counter-offer and save their place. These types of protections are commonly seen as a way to give every opportunity to the landowner to stay on their place. This was not an option at this sale. Whether this is legal or not is under investigation. Regardless, to treat your neighbor as an opportunity rather than your responsibility is far from Christian. To aggressively and strategically maneuver to buy your struggling neighbor’s farm is a service to self, not a service to others.
Selling the Wise farm illuminates the structural, racial, dimensions of inequality in this country. Buying Eddie and Dorothy Wise’s farm brings into clear view the moral failure of the white, Christian, community.

BLACK FARMERS STILL FACING LAND LOSS, DISCRIMINATION.

Farming is one of the main staples in human life, unfortunately, Black farmers have struggled to get the same rights as White farmers. Today, Black farmers are still fighting for their rights. From 1920 to 2000, Blacks went from owning 20 million acres to 1,500,00 acres owned by Black farmers. U.S. Federal District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman consented to the decree on April 14, 1999. The settlement recognized discrimination against Black farmers. The settlement was the largest civil rights class action settlement in American history with over $2 billion. Black farmers continued to protest due to not receiving the money from the settlement and debt relief. Investigations were launched which led to the discovery that the USDA was holding back three quarters of the $2.3 billion. This led to another suit, Pigford II. To many Black farmers the claims amount of $50,000 was not sufficient, it has been more about access to loans, debt relief and land loss. The administration under leadership of President Obama that has claimed victory for our Black Farmers is far from the truth. The discrimination that contributed to the decline of the Black Farmer as well as loss of land, that lead to the Black Farmers Settlement, still persist. You can get involved and join this fight for our farmers by joining an organization.

Here is some information:

 

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Black Farmers & Agruculturalis Association (BFAA) at tillery@aol.com or call 252 826-3017. 

https://www.gofundme.com/39m8623g

8  marketsign

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Maureen Taylor: Michigan Welfare rights & Gary Grant: BFAA

Maureen Taylor, Grassroots Activist and Chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization. We talked with our guest about what’s going on surrounding the poisoning of the water supply provided to our people in Flint MI. Also, Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association president Mr. Gary Grant joined us. The discrimination that contributed to the decline of the black farmer as well as loss of land, that lead to the Black Farmers Settlement, still persist.

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Hosts of Time For An Awakening participate in Urban Farmers Market panel

Talk show hosts Elliott Booker and Reggie Raghu make a presentation during the January 17, 2011 Overbrook Environmental Education Center’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Learning and Service. They discuss the plight of the black farmers and their own initiative to help the farmers by providing urban farmer’s market outlets throughout Philadelphia for their produce and crops.

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