Cynthia McKinney: Vilsack must keep Black farmers on their land

One and a half million Black-owned farm acres being looted by USDA while farmers wait for justice

Shirley-Sherrod-by-AP, Cynthia McKinney: Vilsack must keep Black farmers on their land, News & Views Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack admitted in a press conference today, “I did not think before I acted.” It is clear from his press conference that he failed to do his job appropriately in his treatment of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Georgia State Rural Development Director Shirley Sherrod.

Sherrod was fired after her superior, USDASherrod, a veteran advocate for Black farmer Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl Cook, asked Sherrod to pull over on her drive from south Georgia to Athens, Georgia, and quit her job after a speech made by Sherrod to the Coffee County NAACP was aired on a Douglas County TV cable access channel and then posted on the internet by Andrew Breitbart, a known conservative, activist blogger.

Sherrod, a veteran advocate for Black farmers, who the USDA admits have been discriminated against, was fired because the White House feared that Glenn Beck was going to discuss her alleged racist remarks on his TV show that night. It turns out, however, that the tape of Sherrod’s remarks had been badly doctored and the doctored version had been posted on the internet.

Glenn Beck and the entire Fox News operation were reacting to the doctored internet posting. Ms. Sherrod was fired without having an opportunity to explain her side of the story and before the White House and Secretary Vilsack had even bothered to look at her entire speech. “The White House and Secretary Vilsack threw Shirley Sherrod under the bus before they had the facts,” said Cynthia McKinney, who knows Sherrod and has spoken often at the Coffee County NAACP.

Unfortunately however, Secretary Vilsack has also thrown Black farmers under the bus. To date, despite abundant headlines to the contrary, Black farmers, including the named plaintiffs in Pigford v. Glickman (1997), Lucious Abrams and Cecil Brewington, have not even had a meeting with USDA to settle their discrimination claim.

Cynthia-McKinney-Triumph-Tour-Black-Dot-crowd-082109-by-Kamau-ppr, Cynthia McKinney: Vilsack must keep Black farmers on their land, News & Views Others who did receive settlements were then harassed by the Internal Revenue Service and had their bank accounts frozen and their Social Security payments offset by any government payments, including stimulus payments. “The actual so-called settlement of the lawsuit was worse than the discrimination that the USDA has admitted to, and discrimination is continuing at this very hour,” said Pigford plaintiff Black farmer Eddie Slaughter.

“The president is meeting with everyone except those who brought forward the lawsuit and those who suffered discrimination and the violation of their constitutional rights,” said Lucious Abrams. Eddie Slaughter and Lucious Abrams met with Secretary Vilsack and apprised him of the current situation, but the secretary to date has failed to act.

The Shirley Sherrod episode shows how quickly legitimate Black interests are thrown under the bus due to fear on the one hand and racial incitement for political purposes on the other hand. “President Barack Obama should meet with Black farmers who are leading the lawsuit,” said McKinney, who has been active for years on the Black farmer issue.

Despite winning the lawsuit, plaintiffs in Pigford have not been made whole and therefore have not received justice. Over one decade later, lead plaintiffs on the lawsuit have not even had a hearing on the merits on their claim of discrimination, now admitted by the USDA. Claimants got paid, but actual farmers did not. The result is that over one million Black-owned farm acres are at risk of being lost due to acceleration of collection of debt, foreclosure, bankruptcy and deliberate delay by the USDA and U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ), resulting in delinquent notes for Black farmers.

Claimants, who are not necessarily farmers, have been paid out of the judgment fund. Meanwhile, class counsel Alexander Pires, adjudicators Poorman Douglas, arbitrator Michael Lewis, the DOJ, which is being paid by USDA, facilitator JAM in Dispute and monitor Randy Ross were all paid over $300 million of taxpayer money, yet actual Black farmers are yet to be made whole. “Under Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, USDA is still engaged in a racket that will result in the theft of Black-owned land,” said McKinney.

Both the White House and Secretary Vilsack have issued public apologies to Sherrod.

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