On MLK Day, Black Farmers Celebrate Civil Rights Victory

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Eligible Black Farmers draw closer to experiencing Dr. King’s dream, says John Boyd

This issue has gone on for almost the 20 years that I've been here, and it needs to be resolved…

Washington DC Black Farmers around the country are celebrating Martin Luther King Day with a new sense that one element of their dream is close to being fulfilled. Their long journey to justice reached a major milestone last December. The Claims Resolution Act of 2010, signed into law by President Obama, passed unanimously in the Senate and enjoyed overwhelming support in the House of Representatives before President Barack Obama signed the historic legislation which, among other things, delivered a fair settlement to tens of thousands of black farmers discriminated against by the US Department of Agriculture.

Republican and Democratic legislators worked across the aisle. In the Senate, Democratic Senators Reid, Landrieu, Hagan among others worked with Republican Senators Grassley and Kyle and the entire Republican caucus to allow the Senate to speak in one unified voice. In the House of Representatives, then-Speaker Pelosi and the Congressional Black Caucus worked tirelessly with then-Minority Leader John Bohner to ensure that justice would no longer be denied. The commitment of the bipartisan leadership reached its climax when Boehner said, "This issue has gone on for almost the 20 years that I've been here, and it needs to be resolved…".

On Dec. 8, with John Boyd, founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association, sitting in the front row, President Obama signed the bill into law.

“Without a doubt this Martin Luther King Day feels very different than any other,” said Boyd. “Finally, Black Farmers have a taste of what Dr. King’s dream was all about. Finally, we see our country treating us as equals. Finally, we see tomorrow as a day of promise, rather than a prison of the past.” Boyd and black farmers across the nation recognize the initiative and commitment of President Obama and a bi-partisan team of Congressional leaders in doing the right thing.

During Boyd’s long fight for the settlement, he frequently cited Dr. King’s 1961 essay, “Equality Now: The President Has the Power,” in which the civil rights leader specifically decried discrimination by the USDA. According to Boyd, “Fifty years later, our government is finally bringing to a close this long, sad chapter in our nation’s history and opening a new chapter of hope and healing.”

“I, along with thousands of farmers, feel validated for standing with good people who I knew would do the right thing. I stood for the President, when he was a Senator running for office, because I believed he understood the plight of the poor. Coming from an agricultural state like Illinois, I knew he would understand the plight of farmers. The same for Senator Grassley – I endorsed the Senator because he is a farmer who understands what happened to minority farmers in the United States was wrong...”, said Boyd. “Finally, our Courts will have an opportunity to approve the settlement, which calls for a fair, neutral process that finally allows for late-filling black farmers from Pigford 1, already on file with the Pigford 1 Claims Administrator, the opportunity to have their claims determined on their merits,” added Boyd. “This case has never been about reparations – it’s been about justice. The settlement was carefully tailored to ensure that only blacks who farmed, or attempted to farm, between 1981 and 1996, filed late in Pigford 1, and complained to USDA that the agency had racially discriminated against them have the opportunity to have their claim heard.”

The settlement agreement allows for no payments to be made to any farmers until the Court approves the settlement, all eligible claimants submit fully completed claim forms explaining the merits of their claims, and an impartial claims administrator and neutral party review and determine that the claim is meritorious. Attorneys anticipate that this process will take several years with no payment to black farmers under the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 to occur until late 2012 at the earliest. The settlement includes a number of anti-fraud provisions to make certain that only legitimate claims are paid.

Potential claimants should also be advised to avoid any and all groups who require a subscription or sign-up fee to become part of the settlement. “After all of the blood, sweat and tears that went into getting black farmers an opportunity to be treated fairly, it would be a shame for anyone to take advantage of these poor people. No one can or should pay anything to get into this suit, not $100 - nothing! Either a claimant meets the class definition or he/she does not.”

Boyd went on to say, “Farmers need to be careful – get the facts. Anyone who says there will be quick money is wrong. You have a case or you don’t. Dr. King wanted fairness and equality – not a hand out. That’s what we want…fairness. We have fought for legitimate claims to be paid, nothing more nothing less.”

John Boyd has invited farmers to watch an informational video here. Neutral information on the black farmer settlement can be found on the Court authorized website and potential plaintiffs should use the contact form included to find out more, http://www.blackfarmercase.com.

For more on the Black Farmers’ long road to justice, please visit http://www.blackfarmers.org and http://www.nbfarally.com. For inquiries, please email farmjustice@gmail.com.

United States District Court for the District of Columbia - Case number 1:08-cv-00940


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