National Press Club

Black Farmers Pursue Claims Against USDA

February 16, 2011

John Boyd, president, National Black Farmers Association

John Boyd, president, National Black Farmers Association

Photo/Image: Tim Lundin

Whether the nation's black farmers share in the $1.5 billion they were promised in the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 rests partly with federal Judge Paul Friedman of Washinigton, D.C., according to John W. Boyd, founder-president of the National Black Farmers Association.

Boyd told a Feb. 15 Newsmaker that Friedman will have to make key decisions related to claims filed under the law. Many farmers missed the Dec. 31, 1996, filing deadline for federal aid.

"Many died before they could receive help," said Boyd, who wants those with legitimate claims but who missed the deadline to receive the help they need.

Black farmers have come too far "in their pursuit of justice to lose their chance now," Boyd said. "Our efforts go back to the Clinton years."

The settlement, initiatied by then-Sen. Barack Obama, was designed to remedy decades of discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Boyd came down hard not only on the agency but also on its "lily-white county committees" that he said have long denied aid to black farmers while assisting white farmers. He said black farmers on committees were only "adisors who have no vote."

Some on the county committess have taken advantage of blacks by claiming they must pay a fee to receive help. "No fee is required," he said.

At one point in the question-answer period, a blogger peppered the speaker with accusations that Boyd's assertions were not true. The moderator, Karrye Braxton, threatened to call security to quiet him.

Boyd and his group have organized rallies of black farmers across the south, where he said the problem is most acute, to focus attention on their plight. He showed a video of the rallies in Memphis, Jackson, Miss., and Montgomery, Ala.

There was also a demonstration in Washington, where Boyd "tied a mule up to the White House (fence)" to raise awareness.

A Virginia farmer whose ancestors were slaves, Boyd recalled the role blacks played in building the nation's tobacco and cotton industries "first as slaves, then as sharecroppers and then as land owners." He said he is also fighting for the rights of Hispanics and other minority farmers.

-- Robert Webb, rewebb@aol.com