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Will Black Farmers Finally See Justice?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Today (Feb 15th) may be the President's Day holiday, but for the president of the National Black Farmer's Association (NBFA) it's the culmination of a remarkable push to bring justice to thousands of black farmers and their families. Since February 6th NBFA president Dr. John Boyd has been barnstorming the South rallying support to convince Congress -- specifically the Senate Agriculture Committee -- to finally distribute to black farmers the $1.15 billion awarded them in the Pigford settlement from decades of discriminatory practices at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Starting in Little Rock, Arkansas and pushing through Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina, Dr. Boyd and his supporters have energized rally crowds and assembled an impressive array of media coverage. The plight of black farmers is front in center in local papers like the Jackson Clarion Ledger and the Memphis Commercial Appeal to editorials in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. The Times in particular pulls no punches:

Pigford v. Glickman has not resonated across the land like Brown v. Board of Education, but the very same history of crippling injustice is at its heart. The Pigford settlement will remain a misnomer until the nation rights this historic injustice and pays what it owes.

The Environmental Working Group collaborated with NBFA on a series of landmark reports, 2007's Short Crop and 2004's Obstruction of Justice, that showed a widening subsidy gap between black farmers and other farmers due to USDA's past discriminatory practices.

"When EWG and NBFA partnered for the 2007 report, it was hard to fathom that the issue would linger into 2010 and that black farmers and their families would still languish with the uncertainty of receiving their due settlements. It's far past time for Congress and the US government to correct this gross injustice," said EWG president Ken Cook.

Getting their message to resonate with Congress has not been the only obstacle for black farmers seeking justice. Internal, and potentially illegal lobbying by USDA employees against Pigford restitution was discovered in leaked emails in August of 2007. The USDA employees were lobbying to have Pigford remedies stripped from the 2007 Farm Bill because of the 'boat load' of work it would cause them. The event then took a bizarre turn as Government Accountability Office investigators were kicked out of USDA offices for investigating the internal employee lobbying.

The quest for black farmer justice has gone on for far too long. Underscoring the misplaced priorities of some members of Congress is the ferocity and swiftness of the defense marshaled by  lawmakers when modest cuts are proposed to the profit-ensuring commodity crop subsidies that go to the largest growers of corn, cotton and rice.

It would be nice to see the same urgency and call to action to correct this gross miscarriage of justice.

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