Black Farmers Urge Obama to Keep Promises

By Guest Columnist Apr 28, 2009

by Jessica Hoffmann Black farmers who’d hoped they might finally see justice under the Obama administration are disappointed—and they’re speaking up about it. Today in D.C., the National Black Farmers’ Association is rallying to protest a government-proposed cap on compensation to Black farmers who were discriminated against by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As ColorLines reported in January, Black farmers in 1999 won the largest civil-rights settlement in U.S. history in a class-action suit that showed systematic racist discrimination by the USDA over several decades. That $2.3 billion settlement has yet to be paid in full—and not every Black farmer who was discriminated against by the agency was included to begin with, a fact well recognized by then-Senator Obama when he fought for a provision in the 2008 Farm Bill that opened the class to farmers who had missed the original filing deadline. Black farmers who had lost land and income due to government racism were hopeful that they’d be compensated by this year’s planting season—something Obama promised when he campaigned in their communities, says John Boyd of the NBFA. But not only have such payments not even begun to be processed, a recent filing by the Department of Justice proposes a $100 million cap on payments to this latest group of claimants. That would amount to about $1,500 each. Black farmers and their supporters believe $1,500 is a far cry from justice for decades of discrimination that directly contributed to loss of wealth, income, and good credit. Gary Grant of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association Gary Grant of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association is opposed to the Obama administration “even having this kind of conversation. There’s no conversation about capping for anyone else, why we gotta cap here all of a sudden? When money is being awarded to people for wrongs done, somehow or another that’s a handout? … But it’s okay to continue to dole money to banks and credit-card companies and big industries?” Members of the Congressional Black Caucus met last week to discuss their frustration about the proposed cap. According to The Hill, they have requested a meeting with administration officials as soon as possible to discuss the issue.1 <> Today, the NBFA and supporters are rallying in Washington to demand justice, and to ask the White House to clarify what Obama meant when, as a senator, he actively supported including more farmers in the class action. “I don’t think [the proposed cap] was the president’s intent when he sponsored the bill as a senator,” Boyd says. Obama has not yet made a statement about the proposed cap. Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced new USDA civil-right policies. While the plan does indicate improvements over past administrations’ atrocious record in this area, Black farmers say the mere proposal of a cap on class-action payments weakens their burgeoning trust in an Obama-era version of an agency they’ve long mistrusted. In Grant’s words, “It is very depressing. Here we are, 10 years later, still fighting the same battle. If we can’t get justice out of the court, and we elected an administration that promised change and we still can’t get justice – we got problems.” For more information about the NBFA rally and legislative conference on this issue, visit Related news, elsewhere: 82-Year-Old Black Farmer Arrested for “Terroristic” Threatening of a USDA Official