October 24, 2013
By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – For decades, Black farmers fought the United States Department of Agriculture over racial discrimination. The farmers, mostly in the south, lost crops, their farms and their homes. Some farmers grew old and died waiting for the slow hands of justice to turn in their favor, but those that still toil in the fields can proclaim victory, the government has finally started cutting checks in the $1.2 billion settlement case known as “Pigford II.”
Tim Pigford, a corn and soybean farmer from southeastern North Carolina, said that USDA officials denied his loan application because he was Black. He even testified before Congress in 1984. By 1998, what became known as the Pigford’s case evolved into a class action racial discrimination lawsuit that included Black farmers who were denied loans and other federal aid from the government from 1981 to 1996. The government settled the case in 1999.
Pigford, eventually backed out of the landmark case that bears his name and was awarded a separated individual payout.
“Pigford II” included Black farmers who missed the filing deadline, but also suffered hardships in receiving aid from the USDA. The farmers, roughly 18,000 of them, will each receive $50,000 plus an additional $12,500 for debt associated with federal taxes.
The judgment is the largest civil rights settlement in United States history.
Even as some advocates for Black farmers declared victory in the case, most agree that the settlement payments won’t go far enough to make up for the wholesale devastation of rural Black communities and the loss of land ownership at the hands of government officials.
“For many Black farmers, the settlement is not going to buy them a new farm with new equipment and put them back into business. That’s not what it’s going to do,” said John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association.
Boyd said, for an elderly Black farmer over 65 years old, the settlement would make the coming years a little more comfortable, pay some bills or help grandkids with college tuition.
Boyd, who has advocated for Black farmers for nearly 30 years, added: “The settlement was never designed to make us completely whole. I don’t know if you can put a dollar figure on that.”
Still, Boyd said the settlement was a big victory for Black farmers and a big victory for Black people.
Boyd said at times he wanted to give up and that he heard “no” so many times he began to think of “nos” as “maybes.”
When Boyd wanted to give up, he remembered the pain and suffering carved into the faces of Black farmers that he met and talked to over the years. Many of them had worse stories than his own encounter with a county supervisor that they said spit on him after denying him a loan.
“That’s what kept me going, it was the faces, it was the stories, it was the pain and suffering, it was all the land that was lost,” said Boyd.
According to the USDA, Black farm ownership peaked in 1920 at 925,710. By 1982, the number of Black-owned farms had plummeted to 33,250. A 1998 USDA report found that, “The decline of the African American farmer has taken place at a rate that is three times that of white farmers.”
Since 1920, nearly 12 million acres has slipped from the hands of Black farmers.
The United States Commission on Civil Rights found that the Farmers Home Administration, “may have hindered the efforts of black small farm operators to remain a viable force in agriculture” and that the USDA and FHA failed to “provide equal opportunities in farm credit programs.”
Critics have charged that the Pigford settlement and claim process is rife with fraud, and that some who alleged discrimination never attempted to farm or receive loan assistance from the USDA. But Boyd said that those allegations are an insult to Black farmers.
“We made the South what it is, we made this country what it is. We made cotton king,” said Boyd. “…If that Black farmer or Black land owner felt that they were discriminated against by the government, they deserved a right to go through that process. I didn’t say everybody deserved a check. I never said that.”
Gary Grant, head of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, said that from 1981-1996. Black farmers in North Carolina lost nearly 300,000 acres totaling $1.2 billion in lost assets in North Carolina alone.
“Fifty thousand dollars to a farmer is not a lot of money,” said Grant.
Farmers didn’t get their land back, they didn’t get their equipment back, they didn’t get their homes back, and Grant said, that tax-burdens often put Black farmers in worst shape than they were in before the settlement.
In a press statement on the Pigford II settlement payments, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) said: “The Pigford I and II class action lawsuits attempted to address a history of discrimination by the Department of Agriculture. Between 1983 and 1997, thousands of African American farmers were denied loans solely because of their race. These discriminatory practices resulted in severe economic consequences for farmers, often preventing them from maintaining and keeping their farms.”
Fudge continued: “Nearly 14 years after the first Pigford case was filed, I am pleased this chapter of discrimination in the history of the Department of Agriculture is closed and bureaucracy will no longer keep these farmers from receiving their due justice.”
Some argue, however that the chapter is still open and Black farmers face extinction if they don’t continue to fight.
Even as the settlement checks go out, the future of Black farming looks grim. Black farmers are counting on a youth infusion to revitalize industry.
“Nothing has changed at the USDA, despite the settlement,” said Grant, who still doesn’t trust the USDA. “We can’t leave it alone.”
Grant added: “This country has destroyed a way of life (family farming and that doesn’t matter if you’re Black or White) and devastated Black communities by the destruction of the agricultural plain, which was the economic engine in rural society.”
Grant acknowledged that sharecropping memories still haunt southern Blacks, because it was such a painful part of our history. But he maintains that Black farmers sent their children off to college and forgot to teach them about the power of land ownership. That was a mistake.
Boyd said that the Black community needs to improve awareness of the value of land ownership.
“A landless culture is a powerless culture. If you don’t have any land you don’t have any power in this country,” said Boyd.
Boyd added: “If you can buy a new Cadillac or a new Mercedes Benz you can also afford five acres in the country. Whatever you need to do in this [nation], if you have land, you can get it done.”
October 24, 2013
Lorraine C. Miller named Interim President and CEO while search for next president and CEO commences
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held its final National Board of Directors meeting of 2013 this weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada, making a number of significant announcements for the future of the organization.
• NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous made his final address to the National Board of Directors, citing the NAACP’s accomplishments in the last five years, and he received a sustained standing ovation from the board, trustees and staff.
• NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock announced that National Board Member Lorraine C. Miller was named the Interim President and CEO of the 104-year-old organization while the search to select a new President and CEO begins.
• The leadership of the search committee to select a new President and CEO has been named. The Chair of the Committee will be Rev. Theresa Dear of Bartlett, Illinois, and the Vice Chair will be Lamell McMorris of Washington, DC. Dear and McMorris are both members of the NAACP National Board.
• A new partnership between the NAACP and TV One has been approved by the Board of Directors, and the television network will carry the 45th NAACP Image Awards for the next five years. The Image Awards will be held February 22, 2014 in the Pasadena Civic Center in Pasadena, California.
• The NAACP has been accredited to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which allows the Association to attend and conduct advocacy at UNFCCC international meetings.
• New national board members were announced: Da’Quan Marcell Love, a senior at Hampton University in Virginia; Joshua S. Turnquest, a sophomore at Syracuse University in New York; and A.M.E. Zion Bishop Dennis V. Proctor, who was elected to fill the unexpired term held by A.M.E. Zion Bishop Roy A. Holmes, who passed away this year. With the passing of Bishop Holmes, Bishop Proctor was assigned to preside over the New York, Western New York, and United Kingdom Episcopal Districts, in addition to Alabama-Florida.
“This is a moment of great change and great opportunity for the NAACP,” stated NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock. “We are excited to work with Lorraine C. Miller during this time of transition. We are confident that Lorraine will serve the Association with a steady and experienced hand as we continue the search for the next President and CEO.”
“I am honored to have been selected for this venerable role,” stated Miller. “I look forward to continuing the path forged by Chairman Brock and President Jealous in the months ahead. These are important times, and the important work of the NAACP will go on.”
“Lorraine is a natural fit as interim president of the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “She comes into this position with two decades of experience working for the U.S. House of Representatives and an even longer career in civil rights advocacy and policy. She will have the honor of leading the dynamic staff of this great organization.”
Miller is a commercial real estate broker with Keller Williams and sits on the Board of D.C. Vote. She served as the first African American clerk (and the first African American officer) of the U.S House of Representatives from 2007 to 2011, and previously worked for former House Speakers Nancy Pelosi, Tom Foley and Jim Wright, as well as U.S. Rep. John Lewis. She also worked in the Clinton White House, as Bureau Chief at the Federal Communications Commission and as Director of Congressional Relations for the Federal Trade Commission. Additionally, she worked at the American Federation of Teachers. She is a faithful member of the historic Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, DC.
Miller served as President of the Washington, DC NAACP Branch for six years, and as a member of the National NAACP Board of Directors since 2008. On the Board of Directors, she serves as a member of the Executive Committee and as Chair of the Advocacy and Policy Committee, and she played a significant role in the creation of the NAACP’s Game Changers.
Miller will begin her role as Interim President and CEO and assume day-to-day responsibility for the Association on November 1st, according to the transition plan approved by the National Board of Directors. Jealous’ tenure with the Association will end officially on December 31.
October 24, 2013
By Barrington M. Salmon
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer
WASHINGTON – Professor Ron Walters would have been right at home at a two-day conference marking the official launch of the Ronald W. Walters Leadership & Public Policy Center at Howard University.
Throughout the days and well into the nights of Oct. 9-11, scholars, friends, former students, mentees and admirers of Walters sat in on panel discussions, listened to and participated in scholarly debates, and frank exchanges about issues of concern and importance to African Americans, Africans and others in the Black Diaspora. Conferees from around the country examined public policy issues, politics, race, criminal justice, law, leadership and current events.
Everywhere people gathered, Walters’ spirit of inquiry, curiosity and intellectual vigor was evident at the Ronald W. Walters Legacy Conference. And common refrains that suffused the panel discussions, lectures, and presentations were “What would Dr. Walters say?” “What would Dr. Walters do?” and “What would Dr. Walters think?”
The Legacy Conference took place against the backdrop of a partial government shutdown by conservative and Tea Party members of the House Republican Caucus; sustained personal attacks by conservatives and critics of President Barack Obama; voter suppression; an activist Supreme Court that had invalidated a key section of the historic Voting Rights Act; and actions by the conservative wing of the GOP panelists said was designed to turn back the clock.
All of these issues, conferees said, were part and parcel of what Walters tackled head-on, advocated and worked against, explained and taught about.
Walters distinguished himself as an internationally recognized political scientist and activist who left behind a stellar legacy as a scholar, teacher, writer, political activist and researcher when he died in September 2010. Sought after by a wide array of politicians, candidates and organizations, Walters is revered by colleagues, admirers and students as a potent, powerful and persuasive intellectual who never lost the common touch.
Elsie L. Scott said Walters deserves every accolade, honor and recognition because of how he carried himself and for the life he lived.
“He was a modest man. When you’d see him, you wouldn’t know he was a giant of a man,” said Scott, founding director of the Ronald W. Walters Leadership & Public Policy Center. “Newer leaders want to wave their flag to let [people] know they’re there, but he would come into a room and sit to the side. He was honest and principled, and never strayed from his basic beliefs. He didn’t try to get on talk shows. He was always looking for outlets for his work.”
Scott, former president and CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, said Walters was always very supportive of the Black community.
“The guiding principle of his life was to liberate,” she explained.
The Ronald W. Walters Leadership & Public Policy Center was established by Howard University a year ago to serve as an interdisciplinary entity that will preserve Walters’ legacy. It will also serve as a focal point for research, policy discussions, publications, leadership development activities and service at the nexus of African-American engagement in the U.S. political process and American and foreign policy.
During a public forum and roundtable discussion at Howard’s Cramton Auditorium on Thursday evening, Joe Madison, Professor Michael Eric Dyson, April Ryan, and George E. Curry reminisced about Walters, his impact on their lives, his principled political activism, his legacy and the large shadow he cast.
Stephanie Brown Jones, CEO of Vestige Strategies, LLC., moderated the Oct. 10 interactive conversation and asked a series of questions related to political and social issues that stimulated a vigorous conversation.
“Ron never got pissed off,” said Madison, a commentator, talk show and political activist in reply to a question. “He was too intelligent for that. What he showed was his intellect and the ability to explain complex political situations so that average people could understand him. I compare him to [Harvard Professor Henry Louis ] Skip Gates. He’d clearly let you understand what was happening and what you needed to do about it.”
Madison, known as “The Black Eagle,” used the example of some politicians and commentators equating the Affordable Care Act with the Fugitive Slave Laws.
“If I could pick up the phone, to talk about, this, this foolishness, he’d have gone through history, then ripped them a new [one], showing them that there’s nothing to compare it to. George Will made the statement about the Fugitive Slave Laws but people are only Google search engine deep. He was a class act always.”
Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, recalled Walters’ involvement in Jesse Jackson’s presidential runs in 1984 and 1988.
“I covered Jesse Jackson’s 1984 campaign and saw Jesse in blue jeans absorbing what Ron told him. He’d ‘Jesse-tize’ it and he was never embarrassed in foreign policy debates,” said Curry, a former Washington correspondent and New York bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune.
Ryan echoed her colleagues’ comments about Walters’ dedication to the Black media.
“I called him before President Obama’s first press conference. There were four or five African Americans there. It was my first time ever asking this president a question so I was going to call him,” said Ryan, a 27-year journalism veteran and White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks. “He never let on that he was ill. He told me to talk about the poverty agenda and jobs issues.”
Dyson spoke of being in awe of Walters’ intellectual prowess.
“He was a public intellectual before there was a term for it,” said Dyson, a Georgetown University professor, ordained Baptist minister and author of 17 books. “We’re talking about the lucidity and clarity with which he controlled that information. He was a scholar’s scholar. He did the spade work – he dug deep. As they would say in the country, he dug deep enough not to suck mud.”
“He was quiet thunder. He had no ego about him and didn’t worry about pride of authorship. He understood the need for information and was constantly engaging in analytical depth and putting it in perspective.”
October 24, 2013
By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – After a little more than two weeks, things have finally gotten back to normal in the nation’s capital. At least, normal by Washington standards. The main thoroughfares connecting the District of Columbia to Maryland and Virginia – I-66, I-95. I-295, I-395, I-495 and U.S Route 1, 29 and 50 – are again crowded with rush-hour traffic. Metro trains and buses are packed and the federal government, including museums and national parks, reopened for business.
After being labeled “non-essential,” federal workers have returned to the essential job of running the government after House Republicans forced a 16-day shutdown of the federal government by trying to defund the Affordable Care Act. Senate leaders from both parties reached a deal to raise the debt ceiling, the measure quickly passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Obama, allowing furloughed workers to return last Thursday.
The government shutdown had a disproportionate impact on Blacks who make up 13.6 percent of the U.S. population and 17.7 percent of the federal workforce. Overall, people of color represent 34 percent of the federal workforce.
Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Obama has this message for returning federal employees: “Thank you. Thanks for your service. Welcome back. What you do is important. It matters.”
Atlanta has the highest number of federal employees outside of Washington, D.C.
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) visited federal employees in the Sam Nunn Cafeteria of the Richard Russell Federal Building in Atlanta on their first day back on the job.
“There was a huge turnout of employees,” said Lewis. “I apologized to them for what the Congress did, and I told them it must never, ever happen again. Many people came up to me. Some needed a hug, some needed a little encouragement, and some even broke down in tears because of all the stress they had been facing. I told them they would continue to have my support, and I thanked them for the good work and their commitment to public service.”
The shutdown, the first in nearly two decades, had a different impact on federal workers.
At one end was Rashonda Williams, a newlywed and the mother of a 2-year-old and a 4-month old.
“I was on edge, didn’t know what to expect,” said Williams, an employee at the General Services Administration (GSA). “We knew [Congress] would get it together, but we didn’t know if we would have retro pay.”
As has been the case in past shutdown, federal employees will receive retroactive pay for the time they lost from work through no fault of their own.
“Now I’m on track to pay my mortgage late. We would have been able to pay on time without the shutdown. We’re a new family, so we don’t have as much savings as older people might,” Williams explained.
One of those “older” people who didn’t feel as pressured by the temporary loss of wages is Penelope Dates, a U.S. Department of Agriculture employee just two years from retirement.
“I’m prepared for emergencies, and I’m really ready to retire. But I felt bad for people who were not prepared,” she said.
Being back at work, she said, is “like nothing ever happened.”
But something did happen. And creditors being creditors, were not interested in the excuses for late payment, however, legitimate or well-publicized.
The shutdown began Oct. 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year. A week later, the Department of Homeland Security provided a letter for furloughed employees to show their creditors. It stated, in part,: “…some of our employees may have difficulty in timely meeting their financial obligations…. We appreciate your organization’s understanding and flexibility toward DHS employees until this situation is resolved.”
The shutdown affected non-employees as well, including contractors and those whose businesses depended on federal workers.
Sammy Soliman, a food cart owner who has perched across the street from the Department of Transportation for the past 20 years, is one such person.
“Everyone is glad to come back, and I am glad they are back,” he said. “The whole city was dead. I lost about 70 percent of my income.”
Unlike federal workers, contractors will not be paid for the time they didn’t work.
Richard Nock, who works in materials handling at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, said his furloughed time amounted to a paid mini-vacation, which is fine with him.
Monte Wallace, an employee at the Administration for Children and Families, is happy about returning to work but worried about the future.
“It feels good to be back but it’s left a bad taste in my mouth,” said Wallace. “Especially since things are still unsettled – this could happen again. We shouldn’t bear the brunt of Congress’ lack of coming together.”