Tuesday, June 14, 2011

African American Farmers Receive Notice of Settlement in USDA Discrimination Case

African American Farmers Receive Notice of Settlement in USDA Discrimination Case

Thousands of black farmers have been denied loans by the federal government

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

A government press release has announced that African American farmers have received a settlement notice in the legal process of resolving the so-called Pigford II discrimination case that found the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guilty of institutional racism. Tens of thousands of African American farmers were represented in a class action suit that charged discrimination by the federal agency between 1981-1996.

A previous settlement known as Pigford I left thousands of farmers uncompensated resulting from government bureaucracy and court guidelines that restricted participation. The Pigford II case was designed to re-correct the previous shortcomings in the initial settlement announced in 1999.

According to a press release issued on June 6 by the Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation Fund, “African American farmers around the country who tried to file a claim in 1999 Pigford Settlement but were unable to receive a decision on the merits because their claims were late are now receiving information about their legal rights and options under the Settlement by postal mail.”

This same release continues stating that the publicity for the settlement claim process would include “A comprehensive paid published notice program which will complement this direct notice. The program will include a nationwide radio advertising campaign, including heavy focus on areas where large numbers of class members are believed to live.”

The announcement of a settlement that was approved by the U.S. Senate for $2.2 billion was made in December of 2010. The process had been held in Congress for more than a year.

The deadline for filing a claim for compensation may expire as early as February 28, 2012. Attorneys for the plantiffs said that if claimants to do file paper work by this time they could forfeit their and the right to sue at a later date.

Plantiffs must agree in the process to either accept the award or contest the amount and conditions. African American farmers have suffered from discrimination and racism since the conclusion of the Civil War that ended slavery.

Other Oppressed Nations and Women Criticize Government

This settlement awarded to African American farmers can, by no means, repair the damage done for centuries of national oppressed and exploitation. The plight of African American farmers derives from the failure of the Civil War and Reconstruction to equitably distribute land and resources to the 4 million freed slaves.

Despite the refusal of the federal government to grant land and livestock to African farmers in the post-slavery South, black people were able to acquire 15 million acres of land by 1910. However, a process of disenfranchisement and state-sanctioned racist terror, brought about the loss of over 13 million acres within the last century.

The gradual industrialization of the South during the latter 20th century displaced many more African Americans from farms and other rural areas. The relatively small group of farmers remaining took collective action during the 1990s and revived the tradition of the civil rights movement of a previous generation.

As the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s sparked similar efforts among other oppressed groups including Latino/as, Asians, Native Americans, women, LGBT communities, seniors, youth, people with disabilities, environmentalists, etc., the current struggle of African American farmers has brought attention to the situation involving Native , Women and Chicano farmers.

In California some Mexican-American farmers in the Valley were angered by the federal government announcement of a settlement allocation of only $1.3 million. Both Latino/as and Women farmers are mandated to share a settlement based on discrimination complaints.

Both Latino/as and women farmers can reportedly receive up to $50,000 if they can show evidence of systematic discrimination by the USDA. The disparity between settlements for African American farmers and Latino/as and women farmers have generated controversy and anger.

Fred Pfaeffle, the USDA’s deputy assistant secretary for civil rights, held a meeting with community leaders to discuss the program at Fresno’s campus of California State University. According to Pfaeffle, “It was a little contentious. But I welcome the opportunity to hear criticism of the program firsthand.” (Fresno Bee, June 11)

One Fresno County farmer Joe Rascon said that “They are trying to wave a carrot in front of us, and some of us aren’t having it. The USDA has already admitted wrongful acts, and now they are not being fair or consistent.”

The USDA’s Agriculture Census says that there 41, 024 black farmers, 82,464 Latino/as farmers and 1 million women farmers. Considering these numbers the settlements for all affected groups seems adequate.

In April a judge approved a settlement for Native American farmers for $680 million. Under the plan if farmers qualify they can received up to $250,000 in compensation.

A development in the settlement of the African American farmers’ claims revealed that the New Communities, Inc. farm organization controlled by Shirley and Charles Sherrod was negotiating for the purchase of a plantation in Dougherty County, Georgia. Shirley Sherrod, a veteran civil rights and farm advocate, was terminated by the USDA in 2010 due to a fabricated smear campaign by a conservative operative.

Sherrod announced that “Charles and I don’t have any money, we are conducting the negotiations through New Communities, Inc. The dream of New Communities, Inc. is still alive. If the purchase goes through it will be paid for from money from our Pigford Settlement.” (Albany Herald, June 6)

Whether the settlement process related to discrimination against African American, Natives, Latino/as and Women will result in some satisfaction of the impacted groups will remain to be seen. The demand for compensation as well as reparations are legitimate based on the actual history of the United States.

Nonetheless, most people within these oppressed nations and groups would agree that more is owed for their centuries-old suffering from various forms of exploitation and repression. These settlements will in no way dampen the struggle for full self-determination and equality.

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