BY WILLIE M. REID
DETROIT-Demanding government action against racist discrimination, about a dozen Black farmers and their supporters picketed here May 8 in front of Cobo Hall. Vice President Albert Gore was speaking there at a luncheon meeting of the Economic Club of Detroit. The next day, several hundred people attended a National Black Farmers Conference.
Gary Grant, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association (BFAA), stated in a release to the press, "It is the second week of May and thousands of acres of farm fields lay barren and unplanted by Black farmers."
Grant called attention to the class-action lawsuit - Pigford et al. v. Glickman - filed last September by many BFAA members against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The lawsuit alleges "rampant discrimination against Blacks in the USDA loan servicing and other county office administered programs," dating back to 1983. The farmers are seeking $2.5 billion in damages.
The picket line and conference were partially in response to a recent U.S. Justice Department ruling that the two-year statute of limitations has expired for many of the plaintiffs.
"Simply put," Grant emphasized in the statement, "our farmers have lost their constitutional right to grow crops and feed our families."
More than 300 people attended the National Black Farmers Conference the next day, organized to help raise awareness of the critical conditions facing Black farmers. Most are small family farmers who also hold other jobs to make ends meet and have less than 50 acres of land. Many face the prospect of being pushed out of agriculture because of foreclosures.
The conference featured a panel of speakers from farm organizations and food cooperatives in Michigan, Georgia, and North Carolina; teachers from university agricultural departments; elected officials and USDA representatives. Secretary of Agriculture Daniel Glickman, a defendant in the lawsuit, was not present although he was listed as an invited speaker in the program.
BFAA president Grant, seated in the audience, challenged Ralph Page, one of the five USDA representatives on the platform, following his presentation. He asked Page to "explain why the USDA can grant $30 million to the corporate court to distribute food substitutes through government programs but refuses to incorporate the fresh foods and vegetables grown by Black farmers." Former secretary of agriculture Michael Espy, who is Black, also spoke.
Joseph Lowery, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Dick Gregory were keynote speakers. They pointed to the fight being waged by Black farmers, as a movement that will revive the broader struggle for Black rights.
U.S. representatives John Conyers, Jr., program chair, and Carolyn Cheaks Kilpatrick convened the Detroit conference. It is one in a series planned for Black farmers in major cities around the country.
Willie M. Reid is a member of United Auto Workers Local
235 in Detroit.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home