Friday, April 17, 2009

A Real Look at the Pigford vs. Glickman

It has been my intention for some time to find a way to bring to the attention of the general public who believe that the Black farmers in America have been paid, through the now historic Pigford vs. Glickman, Secretary of the USDA, for years of discrimination. The law suit was filed in August of 1998 and was deemed closed on April 4, 1999 after a “fairness” hearing. Quickly, the law suit was (1) a Class Action; (2) it had two “Tracks”- A for minimal proof, and B for a “preponderance of evidence;” (3) three of the most damning requirements were a) the naming of a “similarly situated White farmer” who was funded at the same time the Black farmer was denied; and b) the Adjudicator would receive challenges from the very officers and offices that had discriminated against the farmer; (3) that in settlement or debt write off would be counted as income to the farmer and reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

What the American public failed to realize is that the “Class” had an average age of 60. Therefore, the very people seeking justice were those who had survived Jim Crow, and many cases real plantation life, especially the deeper you went into the South. So these farmers had not only been denied access to loans and government programs, they had been denied access to education and basic rights of being able to register to vote, and then would have to have some extraordinary courage to actually go the polls and vote. Fortunately for me, my father and mother were one of the few farmers who had completed high school, could read and write, had educated his children “to get a better job,” but not educated away from the farm and the land.

During the struggle to save our farmland, Dad would often remind us that “the only legacy the Black farmer had to leave his children was the land.” What a profound statement. A people who had amassed more than sixteen million acres of land through some of the most treacherous times in America’s history, those who were the “middle class” in many of the Black communities building churches and schools and owners of small businesses that employed other Blacks, and though most of my generation would say the work was pure hell, these independent business people provided summer employment for many teenagers (please let us not debate this issue) too, and genuinely believed that their government would protect them.

The Black farmer and landowner and the small independent business men and women were actually major sustainers of the Civil Rights Movement in the South by being able to put up there land to bail the demonstrators out house and feed them with real food from home grown gardens and pasture raised meat. However, this “little” contribution has paled in comparison to the stories of the northern dollars that came to pay travel and other expenses for the freedom riders.

So a group of the least expected citizens of the United States; those who were least educated formally, and those who truly trusted their government to do right by them settled the largest Civil Rights claim against the government in history. Now, isn’t it interesting that in 1996 when the first African American was appointed Secretary of the USDA, that there was a law passed to tax all Civil Rights Awards and Settlements with the government.

Each day, the national office of the Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association (BFAA) receives from five to seven calls regarding the Pigford Class. Forty per cent of them are members of the class still trying to get their case through Adjudicator and/or the Monitor. Fifty percent are those who have been fooled along the way by a break-a-way group from BFAA who took people for a ride by taking money from them through a scheme that the people believed would get them into the Pigford Class. And the other ten percent are actually claimants that have tracking numbers and may have an opportunity to pursue their claims under the Black farmer section of the 2008 Farm Bill.

Periodically, I will send short stories here that will help people know that the Black farmer is still struggling and still attempting to seek justice from a government that actually allowed racism and discrimination to be part of its laws. Hopefully, sensitive people will understand that you cannot deny an entire population to be denied its rights and expect that same population to come forth without questioning a government that continues to allow these practices to rule.