Black Farmers Sit-in
sherrynstan at igc.org
Fri Jul 5 05:16:41 MDT 2002
July 2, 2002
On July 1, 2002, over 300 members of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists
Association representing BFAA chapters in 16 states entered Farm Service
Agency offices in Brownsville, TN. They want the US Department of
Agriculture to process claims of Black farmers who are due settlements
under the racial discrimination case brought against the USDA by Black
farmers, a class action that was supposedly settled in 1999. They seek a
meeting with US Agriculture Secretary Ann Venneman to discuss several
issues related to settlement of the case. BFAA president Gary Grant and 20
other members remain in the FSA offices and are committed to staying as
long as necessary.
BFAA supporters can call Secretary Venneman's office (202-720-3467) to
encourage her to meet with the farmers. For more information call the BFAA
national office at 252-826-2800.
Protesters Take Over USDA Office in Tennessee
Black Farmers Say Promised Loans Were Mishandled By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 2, 2002; Page A03
Three hundred black farmers took over a U.S. Department of Agriculture
regional office in Brownsville, Tenn., yesterday to protest what organizers
called the agency's failure to process loan applications from growers who
were counting on the money to plant this year's crops.
"These farmers are still waiting for word to see if they can get money,"
said Tom Burrell, a board member of the Tennessee chapter of the Black
Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, one of several groups that
organized the protest. "But now, for all intents and purposes, the planting
season is over. This is nothing but business as usual."
Authorities reported no injuries in the building's takeover, after which
about half of the farmers remained inside throughout the day. USDA
officials said its employees were sent home for the day.
"They were very nice," said Gary Grant, a North Carolina farmer and
president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists. "They had been very
accommodating. Typical USDA. 'We're going to be very nice to you. Here's
the bathroom. Here's the water fountain.' We didn't come to use the
bathroom and the water fountain. The men came for their money."
In 1999, the USDA settled a class action lawsuit brought by African
American farmers who said they had been denied loans by regional bureaus
when white farmers had not been. As of February, the agency had paid more
than $615 million on slightly less than half of the 22,600 claims filed,
according to statistics posted on the agency's Web site.
Over the years, the lawsuit said, loan rejections to African American
growers, which often came under catastrophic conditions, led to massive
losses, foreclosures and, ultimately, the loss of farms. In 1920, there
were 925,000 black farmers, according to USDA and Census records. Today,
there are about 15,000.
"We're at a point right now where we're all but extinct," Burrell said.
"This is the last stand for black farmers. If we don't get a victory in the
next six months, it's curtains for the black farmer. This is all a part of
a conspiracy to get rid of us."
Alisa Harrison, a spokeswoman for the USDA, said the takeover of the
bureau, which houses a Farm Services Agency office that makes loans, was
"When you take the kind of action they took today, you disrupt the work the
employees are there to do," Harrison said. "There is a place to process
disputes in a professional manner. If you look at the last couple of years,
we've significantly increased our staffing and resources regarding these
types of matters."
Yesterday's protesters came from 16 states by car, train and pickup truck
to support five black Tennessee growers. Protest organizers said the five
had applied for loans in Fayette County, but the loan applications were
sent to Haywood County, where they sat for more than a month.
The farmers -- Coach Perkins, James Hood, Barton Nelson, Earnest Campbell
and Gerald Pettaway -- entered into agreements for land, fuel, fertilizer
and seed with the understanding that the money was coming, Burrell said.
When the planting season ended with the start of July, there was no money.
Now they face thousands of dollars of debt.
The protesters demanded to speak with Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman
in Washington, to have the loans of the five farmers processed, and to have
negotiations on speeding up the processing of claims related to the lawsuit
before vacating the building at 1191 Dupree St. in Brownsville.
"We are willing to stay in this building until we get what's necessary,"
said Burrell, who lost his Tennessee farm to foreclosure in 1981.
Attorney James Myart, another organizer, said the protesters would be
nonviolent. "If police touch us, we're going to go limp," he said. "They'll
need a large number of officers to carry us out."
For Grant it was a stinging reminder of how his father, Matthew, suffered
in Tillery, N.C. The USDA foreclosed on Matthew Grant's farm because he was
delinquent by $10,000 on a loan four times that amount.
Grant said the USDA would not adjust the terms for repayment of the loan,
even though the delinquency resulted from three years of catastrophic
weather. Grant said he proved that the agency adjusted repayment terms for
white farmers who suffered from the same conditions.
Matthew Grant died in December, five months after his wife.
"The fact that they died before this was settled is just awful," Grant said
of his father's claim under the class action suit. "What the USDA is doing
is waiting for these people to die, thinking their children won't pick up
the fight. They tried to prevent me from becoming the substitute executor
of my father's estate. That's how determined they are."
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
TN - Black Farmers and Agriculturalist Association
P. O. Box 674
Covington, TN 38019
See our web site at: http:www.coax.net/people/lwf/bfaa.htm
July 4, 2002
For Immediate Release
Contact: Thomas Burrell - 901-481-8500 or Gary Grant, President - National
Cell Phone (252) 532-0197
BROWNSVILLE, TN. - Gary Grant, today, said, "We, the Black Farmers of
America are here in this farming community celebrating our country's
freedom from an oppressive government, the Kingdom of England. Our
forefathers and mothers, Black and white, fought and died for their right
to live on and work the land in dignity, productivity and freedom from
slavery and monarchical rule.
We the Black Farmers do here, today, what our forefathers dared to do 226
years ago - protest second class citizenship, taxation without
representation, and illegal governmental action which prevents us from
enjoying the freedoms taken for granted by white and privileged Americans.
This government stands on the constitutional principle that "all men are
created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among them
is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
The fact is, this government has denied Black Farmers the very right to
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by violating the very
constitutional principles that form the bedrock of our society. Black
Farmers have been forced off the land: the sustenance of life. We have been
denied liberty, physical and financial. Black farmers have been so
oppressed and suppressed that they are no longer involved in the pursuit of
happiness, but rather dogged with the sheer desire to survive where freedom
ain't really free," Grant reiterated.
Black Farmers have found that
THERE IS NO JUSTICE, THERE IS JUST US!
"Today," Grant continued, "[O]ur sit-in is not over; it is just beginning.
Yes, we have heard from Secretary Veneman's office; yes, we have agreed to
meet with Ms. Veneman only because she now has agreed to meet with us
because of this sit-in." Grant said, "It ain't over because Secretary
Veneman still has not done as we have asked. Her Chief of Staff called and
sent a letter. She has not called and has not shown us proper respect. We
are not under English rule in this country. Secretary Veneman, you are not
Queen Ann! You work for us, the American taxpayers. We are not your
subjects who must bow and curtsey. Our forefathers and mothers fought to
stop such nonsense."
Grant concluded by sending this message to Secretary Veneman, "Secretary
Veneman, call us and tell us that you want to meet with us and that you
will to settle the five remaining application in Brownsville, TN; that you
will settle, once and for all, the Davis, Grant, Grant, and Coates
administrative cases that have already been signed and sealed, but not
delivered; and, that you will meet the other delineated demands which will
then settle this Black farmer issue once and for all.
Then we will gladly vacate our building here in Brownsville and come to
Washington to occupy the taxpayers Department of Agriculture Building at
your invitation, of course."
"Then and only then will Black farmers be able to truly enjoy the
celebration of this county's independence as they attempt to enjoy the
Emancipation Proclamation. When these two holidays can become one, then we
can truly say,
"ONE NATION UNDER GOD."
We have been granted an audience with Sec. of Agriculture Ann Venemen on
Friday, July 12, 2002. We are anxiously looking forward to this meeting
which we hope will bring about many changes that will help not only the
Black farmer but will help save family farmers all across this country.
The 5 Day Sit-in in Brownsville has taken its toll on the small TREASURY of
BFAA. Although the people of this town, both Black and white, have been
tremendous in providing for our needs, we do have BILLS THAT HAVE COME DO.
WE NEED SOME FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE.
Please consider making a contribution of any size to BFAA and mail it to:
PO BOX 61
TILLERY, NC 27887
When we go to Washington, this requires travel for the BFAA Board members,
hotel rooms and food. SO PLEASE BE GENEROUS.
If you have questions, please, contact me at 252-532-0197 -- my cell or the
BFAA office in Tillery, NC at 252-826-2800.
THANK YOU IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR GENEROSITY!
Gary R. Grant, President
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