Special to the Tri-State Defender
The sentiments were pretty much the same: Each speaker at a January 2 rally at Temple Church of God in Christ did not shrink from explaining what they believe to be an injustice heaped upon African-American farmers who were discriminated against by the United States government.
|The Memphis Ecumenical Action Committee announced support for the black farmers seeking a reasonable settlement from the U.S. government during a press conference on Dec. 30.|
After years of litigation, a judge issued a Consent Decree in 1999 that settled a class action lawsuit that held the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for its role in discriminating against African-American farmers, and provided for them a $1.25 billion compensation package. However, not all African-American farmers have benefited, some speakers pointed out.
Dr. Reginald L. Porter Sr., pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, described the black farmers’ plight as a fight for freedom.
“This is not a farmer’s fight. This is a fight for freedom,” said Porter, referring to a Bible story about Joshua’s call to the tribes to take land that was promised to them. “If we are going to have freedom, we must take the Promised Land.”
Porter is part of the group of clergymen that banded together to support the Memphis-based Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (BFAA), an advocacy organization, in its efforts to apprise black farmers of their rights after the landmark case, Timothy Pigford vs. Dan Glickman, United States Department of Agriculture, was settled and then reapportioned by the Obama administration in 2011.
On Oct,, 27, 2011, Judge Paul L. Friedman of the United District Court for the District of Columbia granted final approval of the settlement that he had preliminarily approved in May 2011. The court order provided for the “Claim Submission Period” to begin on Nov. 14, 2011 and end on May 11, 2012.
The National Black Farmers Association has been the driving force behind a settlement. John Boyd, head of the group, had not been reached for comment by the New Tri-State Defender’s press deadline Wednesday. However, Boyd has said that the greatest legacy of the case is a group of poor black farmers organizing to take on the government.
“This case was filed just about in every state in the South. In Virginia, a judge asked the government to settle those cases individually. But we wanted a class,” Boyd said during a CNN interview.
“We were lucky enough to get a judge that was fair. So in between there and legislation, all Judge Friedman had to do was say it was OK with him. The president had already signed it. Congress had approved it. This is one case where the lawyers can’t say they’ve done it. This was not a case tried out of court – this was a case tried in the public eye, in the halls of Congress, right up to the presidency.”
Still, no less than 400 people attended the Memphis rally and listened intently to a few of the members comprising the recently formed Memphis Ecumenical Action Committee decry the government’s decision to move black farmers out of Pigford I into Pigford II and included women and other minorities claiming discrimination as part of the judgment.
Dr. LaSimba Gray Jr., pastor of New Sardis Baptist Church, offered the audience a brief history lesson about his family. He traced his lineage back four generations, noting that his forebears were farmers and that he’s a descendent of slaves.
“You’re never broke if you got some land,” he said. “We should have gotten our ’40 acres and a mule.’ Though you deny me, yet I will get my justice.”
Although Dr. Dwight Montgomery, president of the local Southern Christian Leadership Conference and pastor of Annesdale Cherokee Baptist Church, admitted not being up to snuff on the details of Pigford I and Pigford II, he said otherwise, “The black farmers deserve what God set forth for them to have.”
He opined that the government was “robbing the ‘hood” – much like the fictitious character Robin Hood who stole from the rich to give to the poor – and forbade black farmers not to sign any documents that would deny them of their rights.
The group is urging farmers not to sign the Pigford II compensation package – which was created for new or late claimants who failed to apply for relief under Pigford I – because, they argue, black farmers “may be forever barred from any compensatory cash compensation and forever barred against up to $2.5 million of injunctive relief.”
Bishop David Allen Hall Sr., pastor of Temple COGIC and chairman of the ecumenical group, made his point clear as the keynote speaker when he said, “We will stay the course. We will not be denied. There will be a reckoning for America and a reckoning for us.”
He said the one billion dollar payoff has only been partially honored and likewise urged black farmers not to sign away their rights. “Your forebears didn’t sharecrop the land to see you sign it away,” he said forthrightly.
He also put the President on notice, saying, “Barack, you messed up on this, but we’re going to take back our rights.”
To the black farmers, he added, “We’re going to guarantee that you get due process. The powers that be need to know that we’re very much on the case.”
(For more information on the black farmers, visit www.mybfaa.org.)