BY SUSAN LAMONT
WASHINGTON—Black farmers plan to gather here September 21-23 to protest the U.S. Senate’s continued refusal to approve $1.25 billion in funding to settle long-standing claims of discrimination by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“The Black farmers’ lawsuit was cut short after 1999 and many farmers were left hanging,” said Robert Binion, 56, a farmer and long-time civil rights activist from Clanton, Alabama, in a telephone interview with the Militant. “We should have finished the job back then.”
“Our gathering in Washington is urgent,” continued Binion. “When the Civil War ended, they told us we would get ‘40 acres and a mule.’ But all we’ve had is empty promises and more promises. We’re not asking for a handout, but for simple, equal justice. Both the Democrats and Republicans are responsible for this situation. It’s discrimination, pure and simple. Not even the Congressional Black Caucus has helped us. This action will be a wake-up call for everyone.”
In late August Binion initiated efforts to bring farmers from Alabama, Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, and elsewhere to Washington, D.C., to demand Senate action on funds promised by President Barack Obama last February. The funding was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in May and has since remained stalled in the Senate, which has refused passage seven times.
The February settlement, known as Pigford II, will provide funds to some of the thousands of Black farmers wrongly denied loans and access to other farm programs by the USDA. The 2010 Pigford II agreement was won by Black farmers’ decade-long fight to include thousands who had been excluded from the 1999 Pigford v. Glickman class-action settlement because they missed the filing deadline or for other reasons.
In the last few weeks, Binion has spoken to farmers living on the border of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, and to others in Houston and Dallas. On August 20 he spoke in Mobile, Alabama.
Binion spoke at Alabama A&M’s main campus near Huntsville August 28, and in Uniontown and Centreville, Alabama, several days later. More than 100 farmers and others attended a meeting in Natchez, Mississippi, September 2, and Binion appeared on a radio show in Meridian the following day. He is planning to visit other farming areas in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi to build the action.
“People will leave their local areas on September 20,” Binion said. “The first day in Washington, September 21, will be for prayer. Then on September 22 we will be meeting with USDA officials and members of the Senate’s Agricultural Committee and others in the Senate. On September 23, at noon, there will be a rally of farmers and supporters on the National Mall by the USDA Building.”
On August 24 some 300 Black farmers from Louisiana and Mississippi gathered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for a meeting hosted by the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA). “When you lose your land, you lose your heritage,” NBFA president John Boyd told the farmers. “We may have lost our land, but we’re not going to lose this fight.”
The Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (BFAA) and Land Loss Fund is hosting the 1st Black FarmAide Action October 22-23 in Tillery, North Carolina. Two days of educational and cultural activities are planned to increase awareness “of the continued decline of Black farmers and Black land ownership, the deterioration of Black land worth, and heirs being deprived of their inheritance via government policies, heir property laws, and other egregious means,” according to the BFAA Web site. For more information visit http://www.bfaa-us.com.
For more information on the September 21-23 protest, contact Robert Binion at (205) 280-2634 (home) or (205) 299-1873 (cell).