A $1.25 Billion Tractor Ride to Capitol Hill

Will blacks farmers who suffered racist discrimination ever get what is due them?

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John W. Boyd rode his tractor to Capitol Hill today. The founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association journeyed from northern Virginia across Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge and up Constitution Avenue. He took the trip on behalf of thousands of black farmers who were promised $1.25 billion to redress past discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

They haven't seen a penny of it. No legislation has been passed that provides the cash, despite both Democratic and Republican senators saying they support the farmers. Ben F. Burkett, 59, a black Mississippi farmer, believes that fear holds the senators back. Burkett told The Root, in an earlier interview, that in an election year, no politician wants an opponent to be able to say that he or she voted to give $1 billion to anyone. It doesn't matter whether the money is justified or not.

Boyd doesn't buy the argument. In a press release, before he got on his tractor, he said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have told him personally that they wanted the black farmers to get what they deserved. Boyd said, "I have heard from so many people around this country in recent weeks, including leading conservative and progressive figures, who believe this is a matter of national importance. Justice in this case should know no partisan boundaries."

The third-generation Virginia farmer also points out that the money does not add to the deficit, since its funding was allocated before the arbitration process began. Before his trip, Boyd said he implored legislators to act immediately to fund this settlement, because older black farmers are dying before they see justice. "These are documented cases of discrimination, and each case needs to be heard and resolved," said Boyd.

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM