By C.K. Moreland, Jr., Special to the NNPA –
WASHINGTON—John Boyd, a fourth generation farmer, wants it to be clear - his effort to secure Congressional funding for a discrimination settlement that Black farmers reached with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is not the pursuit of "reparation."
"It's [about] discrimination," John Boyd, the president of the National Black Farmers Association told Fox News. "It's about justice. Black farmers have not been getting justice."
Black farmers originally filed a lawsuit against USDA in 1997 and reached a settlement agreement in 1999. Even though thousands filed claims in the settlement, many more were unaware of the deadline. A second deadline was set for September of 2000 but only a small percentage of those farmers filing claims were declared eligible for payment. Now, nearly a decade later, Black farmers are still waiting for funding for the Black Farm bill. President Obama proposed adding $1.25 billion to settle the suit and the plaintiffs agreed. However, the money was to be allocated by Congress by March 31st, it was not.
Standing in solidarity beside the Black Farmers were members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), CBC Chair Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), and former CBC Chair Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), who has been standing with the Black Farmers since the mid-1990s.
“I was pleased to join my friend John Boyd of the National Black Farmers Association, and the many Black farmers and their families and friends…to urge the Senate to fund the $1.15 billion settlement owed to these hard working Americans,” said Waters. “I have been working on this issue for almost 15 years, as Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus in the late ‘90s, I worked closely with my CBC colleagues to urge then-Attorney General Janet Reno to waive the statute of limitations so that farmers could redress decades of financial and racial discrimination with the Department of Justice.”
With support from the Obama Administration and with the funding already passed by the House, Waters said , “we now find ourselves waiting on the Senate, which is using procedure as an excuse to further delay and deny justice to these Black farmers. I firmly believe the Senate should make the Black farmers’ settlement a legislative priority, and that they should not recess for mid-term elections until this issue is resolved. I therefore applaud Senator Kay Hagan and some of her colleagues latest efforts to fast track this payment.”
In a symbolic gesture to garner support for and bring attention to the Black Farmers Bill, Boyd recently led a peaceful march from the USDA headquarters to the U.S. Capitol atop an orange tractor he named “Justice”. Prior to the march, Boyd drove “Justice” through the streets of Washington for a week. He has been calling on the Senate to pass funding for claims stemming from the class action lawsuit, known as "The Pigford Case", in which Black farmers sued the USDA for denying them fair treatment when they applied for federal assistance. The case was settled in 1999 and the federal government paid out approximately $1 billion to claimants.
Approximately 80,000 black farmers missed the deadline for the 1999 settlement. In February 2010, the Obama Administration announced a $1.15 billion agreement to resolve the second round of claims, with the purpose of bringing "these long-ignored claims of African-American farmers to a rightful conclusion."
The funding has passed the House but has been stalled in the Senate, where it has been attached to several bills only to be scratched out.
Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, also stood with Boyd, during the news conference to announce they are introducing a standalone bill with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to fund the $1.15 billion settlement. "We're working together to send this language to the President as quickly as possible because our Black farmers have waited too long," said Sen. Hagan. “We want to ensure Black farmers in our country finally receive the justice they deserve,” she said.
“More than 4,000 African American farmers in North Carolina and over 75,000 nationwide have been discriminated against and denied just compensation for decades. Today, I join with my colleagues from Louisiana and Arkansas, Senators Landrieu and Lincoln, to introduce a bill to fund the settlement once and for all, and we are working to send this language to the President.”
The news conference was the culmination of the mile long march, led by Boyd, which began at the steps of the Department of Agriculture and ended at the U.S. Capitol. Among the participants: John Bonner of Dinwiddie, Virginia, whose father passed away earlier this year but continues to have an outstanding claim.
“At this late and critical stage of the process I was compelled to walk over to the Senate, stand up with my friends, and speak out for jobs, for justice, and for civil rights,” said Waters. “I will continue to speak and work with John Boyd and the Black farmers to make sure that this issue is finally resolved in a swift and fair manner.”