Tuesday, January 3, 2012
The sentiments were pretty much the same: Each speaker at a Jan. 2 rally at Temple Church of God in Christ in Memphis did not shrink from explaining what they believe to be an injustice heaped upon black farmers who were discriminated against by the United States government.
After years of litigation, a judge issued a Consent Decree in 1999 that settled a class action lawsuit that held the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for its role in discriminating against black farmers, and provided for them a $1.25 billion compensation package. However, not all black farmers have benefited, some speakers pointed out.
Dr. Reginald L. Porter Sr., pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, described the black farmers’ plight as a fight for freedom. “This is not a farmer’s fight. This is a fight for freedom,” said Porter, referring to a Bible story about Joshua’s call to the tribes to take land that was promised to them. “If we are going to have freedom, we must take the Promised Land.”
Porter is part of the group of clergymen that banded together to support the Memphis-based Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (BFAA), an advocacy organization, in its efforts to apprise black farmers of their rights after the landmark case, Timothy Pigford vs. Dan Glickman, United States Department of Agriculture, was settled and then reapportioned by the Obama administration in 2011.
No less than 400 people attended the rally and listened intently to a few of the members comprising the recently formed Memphis Ecumenical Action Committee decry the government’s decision to move black farmers out of Pigford I into Pigford II and included women and other minorities claiming discrimination as part of the judgment.
Dr. LaSimba Gray Jr., pastor of New Sardis Baptist Church, offered the audience a brief history lesson about his family. He traced his lineage back four generations, noting that his forebears were farmers and that he’s a descendent of slaves.
“You’re never broke if you got some land,” he said. “We should have gotten our ’40 acres and a mule.’ Though you deny me, yet I will get my justice.”
Although Dr. Dwight Montgomery, president of the local Southern Christian Leadership Conference and pastor of Annesdale Cherokee Baptist Church, admitted not being up to snuff on the details of Pigford I and Pigford II, he said otherwise, “The black farmers deserve what God set forth for them to have.”
He opined that the government was “robbing the ‘hood” – much like the fictitious character Robin Hood who stole from the rich to give to the poor -- and forbade black farmers not to sign any documents that would deny them of their rights.
The group is urging farmers not to sign the Pigford II compensation package -- which was created for new or late claimants who failed to apply for relief under Pigford I – because, they argue, black farmers “may be forever barred from any compensatory cash compensation and forever barred against up to $2.5 million of injunctive relief.”
Bishop David Allen Hall Sr., pastor of Temple COGIC and chairman of the ecumenical group, made his point clear as the keynote speaker when he said, “We will stay the course. We will not be denied. There will be a reckoning for America and a reckoning for us.”
He said the one billion dollar payoff has only been partially honored and likewise urged black farmers not to sign away their rights. “Your forebears didn’t sharecrop the land to see you sign it away,” he said forthrightly.
He also put the President on notice, saying, “Barack, you messed up on this, but we’re going to take back our rights.”
To the black farmers, he added, "We're going to guarantee that you get due process. The powers-that-be need to know that we're very much on the case."
For more information on the black farmers, visit www.mybfaa.org.
It was 12 years ago when the United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued a Consent Decree to settle a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for willfully discriminating against black farmers.
After Timothy Pigford vs. Dan Glickman, United States Department of Agriculture, was settled for $1.25 billion during the Clinton administration, black farmers were certain that long, overdue compensation had finally arrived as redress for some of the innumerable past inequities and injustices that some government agencies and institutions had allegedly conceded to.
However, a group of clergymen, comprising “The Memphis Ecumenical Action Committee,” are appalled that all the hard work that went into securing compensation and justice for black farmers is now being threatened by an executive order that President Obama issued in 2011.
That order, known as Pigford II, “truly nullifies and contravenes the original settlement that was Pigford I,” said Bishop David Allen Hall Sr., who expressed displeasure over the government’s “discrimination” of black farmers at a press conference on December 30, 2011. Bishop Hall is the pastor of Temple Church of God in Christ and the committee’s chairperson.
The President, Bishop Hall pointed out, moved black farmers out of Pigford I into Pigford II and included women and other minorities claiming discrimination as part of the judgment. The latter settlement was capped, he said, “which prevents black farmers from receiving their fair share of the judgment.”
In past decades, African-American clergymen were counted on to support campaigns that were waged against wanton injustices in the African American community. The ecumenical leaders, in this case, have banded together to support Thomas Burrell, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (BFAA), in his 30-year effort to undergird black farmers.
“We are gathered here today to bring attention to what we consider to be a continued act of racism against an aggrieved group of citizens,” said Burrell, who founded the BFAA in 2000 as an advocacy organization representing 10,000 of 65,000 black farmers, or claimants, across the country. The organization has offices in Memphis.
Dr. Herbert Lester, pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church, said, “When any segment of our community is denied its capacity to function as it should, then all of us are victimized by that.”
Bishop E. Lynn Brown, retired prelate of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and vice chairman of the ecumenical group, urged the African-American church and its members to support Burrell and the BFAA.
“We can stop this gross injustice that’s been the case,” said Bishop Brown, his voice resonating around the room.
Although he’d indicated his appreciation for President Obama, he bellowed, “We hope this will happen… and if it won’t, we will work diligently… and we will bury the opposition so deep it will take a billion pounds of baking powder to raise it from the dead.”
Bishop Hall concluded, “We are going to push this effort forward until we do get satisfaction. It’s essential and it’s only fair.”
The group is urging the Obama administration to return black farmers to Pigford I, which is closed to new or late Black farmers claimants, and vowed to take the fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if their request is denied.
“Pigford I is sufficient to enforce our rights as Congress intended under Section 741,” the group argues.