About 100 African-American farmers picketed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington Aug. 22 to protest stalling on delivery of restitution payments for thousands of Black farmers who were denied government crop loans because they are Black.

One farmer brought his tractor while others brought livestock, including goats and chickens. Philip Haynie, a Virginia farmer, brought his mule, Struggle.

Haynie told reporters that in 1998, he walked into the federal agricultural loan office in Heathersville, Va. He was met by a government representative holding a hand gun. “I kept looking to see if it was a real gun.”

His application was denied. He then filed a complaint with the Agricultural Department, claiming he was turned down because he was Black.

He was one of thousands of Black farmers who filed a class-action lawsuit in the early 1990s, demanding restitution. A federal judge found overwhelming proof of racist discrimination and ordered the USDA to pay the Black farmers $2 billion in compensation.

Two years later the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed to pay $50,000 in each of the cases where discrimination could be proven.

Haynie’s suit was denied, and he is now bankrupt. The pistol-holding agent received a fine of one day’s pay and was given early retirement.

Now the farmers who have taken part in this class-action suit joined together in National Black Farmers Association (NBFA), electing John Boyd, a Virginia tobacco farmer, president. “We are fighting for fairness in the system,” Boyd told reporters outside the USDA building. “I think the thing is like a volcano: I think it is going to explode.” The Bush administration has rejected thousands of applications. Meanwhile Black farmers are losing their land that has been in their families for generations.

The number of cases that have been approved thus far is 12,859, while 8,490 have been denied. Still others are pending.

According to the U.S. Census of Agriculture, Black farmers are but 1 percent of all American farmers. But they have shown a fighting spirit on many occasions. We recall the Alabama Sharecroppers Union, the Tenant Farmers Association of Arkansas, the Tenant Farmers Organization of Louisiana parishes during the Depression period of the 1930s.

Today’s NBFA can become a valued partner in the struggles of all the farm organizations of our country.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org

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