Justice Still Delayed for Black Farmers

Last year President Obama signed a bill settling a discrimination suit filed by thousands of black farmers, but conservative bloggers are calling their claims a massive fraud. The president of the National Black Farmers Association pushes back with his side of the story.

John W. Boyd Jr. (Getty Images)
John W. Boyd Jr. (Getty Images)

JB: I don’t know. I was hopeful that Judge Freeman would move expeditiously on this, like the two Native American lawsuits that we actually paved the way for — the Keepseagle case and the Cobell case. Keepseagle is a lawsuit that American Indian farmers filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which was settled for $760 million and given preliminary approval by a different federal judge. That case is off and moving.

The Cobell case [a $3.4 billion settlement between Native American trust-account holders and the Department of the Interior] was in the same bill as the Pigford II case, and that has also received preliminary approval by a federal judge. But the black farmers’ settlement has not received approval thus far.

TR: What do you think is the motivation behind Andrew Breitbart’s mission to “expose” the Pigford II settlement as a scam?

JB: I think this is a group of people who don’t want to see black people receive a dime. If that’s not the reason, then why haven’t they looked into the Native American settlements? The Cobell settlement was on the same bill as mine. That case has 300,000 potential payments, but not once have you heard anything about an investigation or fraud. Why is it just black people that they portray as being so bad?

It just seems to me that every time you raise an issue related to blacks in this country, the far-right wing tries to say that it’s somehow fraudulent. They keep saying that they don’t know where all these black farmers came from. Every African American in this country is only two or three generations away from a farm — that’s where we come from.

TR: I understand that black farmers themselves have been the victims of scam artists.

JB: We’ve had farmers throughout the Deep South being told that they have to fill out a claim form of some type, and that there’s a fee for it. The fees they’re being charged have ranged from $100 up to $1,000.

Now, there is no fee involved in this case. The farmers will not have to pay anything. But we have scammers trying to take advantage of a group of people who are somewhat desperate. They’re tired of waiting. Another problem is that a lot of these black farmers don’t really read and aren’t getting the correct information. All of that opens the door for people who are looking to make a fast buck.

TR: Some black farmers have also taken up with Breitbart, saying that the real victims have been shut out of the settlement. Can you explain who these people are?

JB: Breitbart has been interviewing farmers that were denied compensation in the first Pigford lawsuit. The confusion that they have managed to create is this: They think that the nearly 9,000 farmers who were denied in the first lawsuit should have been a part of the bill that the president signed back in December. I actually agree.

As a matter of fact, when I first wrote the bill for late filers, the farmers who had statute of limitation cases [from the original lawsuit] and the late filers were all in the same bill. But the statute of limitations cases were stripped from the bill in the House of Representatives, and that part was not funded. Those 9,000 farmers that had been denied were taken out.

TR: But if those farmers had already gone through an adjudication process and didn’t qualify, why should they be given another chance?

JB: In the original process, they had to go out and find a similarly situated white farmer to compare their case to. There was supposed to be an automatic $50,000 payment if they proved their case, but as the process unfolded, the arbitrators began adding more stipulations. So in the first Pigford case, they had to find similarly situated white farmers, but claimants in the Pigford II case did not. I fought tooth and nail to take that language out.

And I agree that those 9,000 farmers should have been a part of the bill. But Andrew Breitbart is painting it as though they’re supposed to be part of the current settlement. But the fact is, the first lawsuit is over and done with. You’ll notice he’s not interviewing any farmers who are bona fide, certified late filers.