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Still Fighting Down on the Farm

Long version: mp3, 4.5 MBs, 5:18
Medium version: mp3, 2.8 MBs, 3:27
Short version:
mp3, 1.4 MBs, 1:42

[Col. recorded 1/14/03]

For millions of people who proudly call themselves "African-Americans", the vast majority have relatives who lived and worked on farms in the U.S. South, either as sharecroppers (workers who farmed for others, for a 'share' of the crop or the proceeds), or farmers whose ancestors fought, and scraped for a patch of land to call their own.

Black farmers who have been battling for decades against their treatment at the hands of the Agriculture Department of the U.S. government have reason to feel that the vaunted civil rights movement has passed them by. Nothing so clearly highlights the class-conscious nature of the U.S. civil rights movement as their objectives to place Blacks in the professions or in jobs in major industry, and their unwillingness to improve the plight of those who chose to try their hand at the tilling of the soil.

Now, Black farmers, angry at the meager fruits of 20 years of class-action litigation, are staging what is becoming their own civil rights action; protests around the offices of the U.S. Agriculture Dept., speak-outs and public information campaigns, designed to educate and inform the people about the situation facing those who stayed to toil the soil, feed the people, and build a fruitful family business.

The Black farmers in America are in trouble.

Decades of discriminatory treatment at the hands of the local and regional offices of the USDA, empty promises by politicians and courts, and repeated betrayals by those who are sworn to 'protect' their interests has left them holding the bag--and the bag is virtually empty.

Back in June, 2002, the then-U.S. Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) spoke out openly and clearly about the problems facing them.

In a June 26, 2002 News Brief item on her congressional website, McKinney assailed both the Bush Administration and the courts for their inability, or unwillingness, to reasonably resolve the issues facing the farmers.

The release of the legal ruling by the three judge panel of the U.S. District of Columbia Court of Appeals gives legal credence to our ongoing outrage and disappointment over the racist and wrongful actions of the Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Justice (DOJ) and the private lawyers who represented Black farmers in the Black Farmer Class Action Lawsuit, Pigford v. Veneman, which was supposed to right the wrongs of years of the USDA's self-admitted discrimination against Black farmers in
the Farm Agency's farm lending programs...

R. Abdul Mu'min Muhammad, a syndicated columnist and spokesman for the Nation of Islam farms, has written that the situation can be broken down into two main perspectives; the choice of relief. One group of farmers elected to use the courts for a class action suit. The other group wanted to use the USDA's administrative process, because it was believed this would result in larger individual awards.

What they have learned, however, is that to win a lawsuit is one thing. To force positive change, is another. The farmers did indeed win a court action, and it was deemed, according to Muhammad, "the largest civil rights lawsuit in the history of the country." Yet, none of the perpetrators has been terminated. Therefore, having won in a court, the farmers are being forced to contend with the very personnel they complained about in their future dealings with the USDA.

Gary Grant, president of the National Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (BFAA) blasted the consent decree ordered by the U.S. courts, saying, "The decree was never workable, causing more than 20,000 Black farmers not to be compensated adequately for the years of discrimination and the loss of millions of acres of land and billions of dollars in income because of the illegal, blatant racist tactics of local FMHA and USDA officials."

The stalwart McKinney, torpedoed by the conservative wing of the Democratic Party, is no longer a member of Congress, but her words remain, and should be a spur to action for those of us who perceive the real worth and potential of farmlands toiled by Black hands for Black health and wealth. Biting no tongue, she spoke directly to the problem: "I am outraged at the conduct of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Justice Civil Division. The decision filed by Judge Tatel confirms legally what I have said for the past three years, these agencies have never had the intention to correct the horrendous discrimination against Black farmers."

As ghettoes continue to swell throughout America's urban areas, the potential of Black farms cannot be underestimated as an important, natural resource that can positively impact on the daily lives and well-being of millions.

Often, those in the inner city must pay the most money for the least fresh, and least nutritious, of life-giving foods. An intelligent program of economic assessment and regional planning, which routes the produce from those farms to the neighborhoods where the goods may be best utilized, can heal two breaches — urban malnutrition and economic self-sustenance--at the same time.

To solve the Black farmer problem may mean, ultimately, to solve our own.


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Submitted by: Sis. Marpessa

 

Text © copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.