Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ecumenical leaders rally for black farmers

Bishop David Allen Hall Sr., pastor of Temple Church of God in Christ and chairman of the Memphis Ecumenical Action Committee, gives a rousing keynote on the black farmers’ plight and serves notice to President Obama that “we’re going to take back our rights.” Standing with him in the pulpit are Dr. LaSimba Gray Jr., pastor of New Sardis Baptist Church; Bishop Edward H. Stephens Jr., pastor of Golden Gate Cathedral; Dr. Dwight Montgomery, president of the local Southern Christian Leadership Conference and pastor of Annesdale Cherokee Baptist Church; and Bishop E. Lynn Brown, retired prelate of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and vice chairman of the ecumenical group. (Photo by Wiley Henry)

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.

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