Roxana Hegeman, AP, Sept. 22
WICHITA, Kan. — The nation’s various black farm groups formed a coalition Tuesday to pursue claims that the government discriminates against them in loans and farm programs.
The new group, the Congress of Black Farmer Organizations, contends the Agriculture Department has continued discriminatory practices and failed to live up to a sweeping civil rights case settled five years ago.
“It is something that is certainly overdue,” said John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association. “We need to work together on this issue. This is an issue the government has been able to keep us divided for a number of years.”
Besides Boyd’s group, the new coalition includes the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and the Arkansas Land Development Fund. The groups met in Atlanta on Tuesday.
The move comes less than two weeks after the filing of a new class-action lawsuit, and just as the House Judiciary Committee prepares to hear testimony on the alleged failure of the earlier consent decree.
A report last month by the Environmental Working Group and the National Black Farmers Association said a large majority of the 96,000 black farmers who sought restitution under the 1999 settlement were rejected.
The USDA has steadfastly contended its record on civil rights laws has been exemplary during President George W. Bush’s administration. It cited numerous initiatives it has undertaken to give black farmers a greater voice in the agency’s organizational structure and its efforts to funnel more business to minority farmers.
Thousands of black farmers are expected to gather in Washington on Sept. 28 for a rally and to attend the House Judiciary Committee’s special meeting, said Thomas Burrell, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalist Association.
“Discrimination is real and it tears apart families,” Boyd said. “When you lose your farm you aren’t losing just your job, you lose everything — ou lose your family, you lose your heritage, you lose your history and you lose the way you make a living.”
Together the coalition groups represent as many as 100,000 black farmers, Burrell said.
“You may have individual (groups) represent different points of view. It doesn’t mean they don’t support the same issues,” Burrell said.