Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Ecumenical leaders fight for black farmers
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.