The Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association Incorporated (BFAA Inc.) filed a recent Motion To Intervene on May 19, 2010, in the class-action lawsuit otherwise known as The Black Farmers Lawsuit. This organization seeks intervention on behalf of African American farmers, their heirs, assigns and administrators (PIGFORD et al. Plaintiff) who are both currently in the lawsuit as well as those who believe that they have a meritorious claim of discrimination against the government but were not notified of the legal proceedings in the lawsuit. The United States Department of Agriculture (Defendant) discriminated against African Americans for decades when it "denied, delayed, or otherwise frustrated the applications of those farmers for farm loans and other credit and benefit programs," according the Judge Paul L. Friedman in his opinion regarding the case.
After several years of mediation, the parties negotiated a settlement and entered into a Consent Decree to resolve the Pigford litigation. The Consent Decree established a process enabling farmers who had been discriminated against as applicants for farm loans or credit and benefit programs to obtain an adjudication of their discrimination claims through a two-track dispute resolution mechanism. Under Track A, class members with minimal, or even no, documentary evidence were entitled to receive a virtually automatic cash payment of $50,000 and forgiveness of debt owed to the USDA. Track B option required a higher burden of proof—preponderance of the evidence—but allowed for uncapped damages.
HOW SHAMEFUL: In 1920, according to USDA and U.S. Census data, 55 percent (over half) of all farmers in the U.S. were Black. However, today, these same agencies state that Blacks account for about 1.5 percent of all farm operators. More disturbingly, of the estimated 96,000 claims filed in the lawsuit, only about 13,000 got paid the $50,000 settlement. Mr. Thomas Burrell, president of the Black Farmers Agriculturalists Association Incorporated (BFAA Inc.), has been traveling to different states trying to understand why so few African American farmers and their heirs got paid. He soon discovered that most African Americans had no knowledge of the lawsuit. When he made an appearance in Los Angeles to a meeting being sponsored by the Council of the Elder, he drew hundreds from as far away as San Diego and Stockton, California, who were unaware of the Black Farmers Class-Action Lawsuit.
THIS YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE! We discovered that there were many Blacks who filed for the settlement in 1999 and got paid but never told their siblings about the opportunity for them to get paid. What is wrong with that picture? One man told us at the meeting that his brothers and sisters got paid, but they told him that he was not eligible because he had "left the South."
THIS HAS BEEN A JOURNEY AND AN EYE-OPENER FOR MANY. As people began searching their lineage to farming, they were quite surprised to discover that their parent and grandparents' "farming occupation" was certified by the states in which they were born by affixing and certifying this "farming occupation" on their birth certificates. Farming is something that Blacks knew so well. In fact, we taught the others how to farm. It has been reported that the first Africans were brought here as consultants, as it were, in agriculture and not as slaves. We farmed when it was tough, without the modern equipment and technology, while others made it a profitable business off the sweat of our backs. I remember when my father and other Black farmers took their cotton to the gin. They had to wait in long lines until the white farmers finished doing their business first before they could have their cotton weighed and processed. As a little girl, I knew then that something was wrong with that picture.
IT IS TIME TO GET PAID. The Obama administration announced a $1.25 billion dollar settlement for decades of agricultural discrimination against Blacks, and Congress (The House of Representatives) gave its approval last week. We have come to get paid for real this time. Why are there insufficient funds when it is time for Blacks to cash their checks? This 1.25 billion is simply not enough to pay the number of claims in the lawsuit with the agreed-upon amount of $50,000 per claim. We did not get our 40 acres and a mule. We have been pleading for "Reparation" and have only gotten an apology. Thank you, but we cannot take that to the bank. This is the time for all Black folks and all folks who believe in justice to stand together with us until we get paid. All roads should lead toward Black farmers and their descendants getting paid—because it is the right thing to do. How long shall we wait while others get paid first?
Mr. Thomas Burrell will continue to tour the United States of America until all are aware of the Black Farmers Class-Action Lawsuit and as victims of discrimination by this government, we should have been notified also. A meeting will be held in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 12, 2010, from 10am until 2pm at the Carson Community Center, 801 E. Carson Street, Carson, California 90059. Mr. Burrell will be in Bakersfield on Friday, June18th from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. & Saturday June 19th from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Hotel, 3927 Marriott Drive, Bakersfield, California 93308. For further information, contact Kenyaka at 626-363-4495.