Essence magazine’s Cynthia Gordy reports that a major civil rights victory came to pass last week, when the U.S. Senate voted to pay a long-blocked $1.15 billion settlement to black farmers. For years Dr. John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, has advocated for the case, involving thousands of black farmers who successfully sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture for discrimination in 1999. Here is an excerpt of Gordy’s interview with Boyd about the settlement:
Essence.com: Congratulations on the settlement. How are you feeling?
Dr. John Boyd: It feels really good to finally get it out of the Senate. We had such a horrible time there trying to make this thing work — it failed nine times previously, and Friday was the 10th time. It finally passed by unanimous consent, and there were times when I thought it wouldn’t pass that way either. We had so much opposition from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).
Essence.com: After nine failed votes to allocate the money, why this time? What changed?
Boyd: We did more outreach to people like Tom Coburn, and explained that it wasn’t a blanket settlement, as other Republicans on the House side had portrayed it. We explained that it will require an adjudication process, and each farmer will have to go through that process. We worked with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who did a good job at getting more Republicans onboard to support it. He doesn’t have many Black farmers in his state, but he is a farmer himself so he understood the issue better than others on the Hill. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did a good job too. I haven’t always said nice things about him in the past, but he did bring it to the floor 10 times, and we never got that under Republican leadership.
Essence.com: After Shirley Sherrod’s firing in July, she used her profile to bring attention to USDA discrimination against Black farmers. Did that add some urgency to the case?
Boyd: It gave validation to what we had been saying for years — how the USDA had mistreated Black farmers, and also Black employees. We still have an employee problem at USDA. She’s an example of that because we have nearly 80,000 Black farmers that said they were discriminated against, and no one’s been fired. Yet they fired this woman on the spot because they thought she’d mistreated a White farmer. I call that a triple standard. We have a long way to go with the Department of Agriculture. The fact is, there’s a terrible distrust between the Black farmers and the USDA — they treated us worse than the dirt on the ground — and that’s not going to go away tomorrow. But paying the farmers will certainly put us a step further in the healing process.
Read more of the interview at Essence.com.