Black, Native Farmers Win in the House of Representatives

Black, Native Farmers Win in the House of Representatives

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 Black farmers, along with Native American farmers, may have finally got theirs.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed the Claims Settlement Act, which will provide funding for the agreements that were reached in separate lawsuits brought by Black farmers and Native American farmers. The lawsuits accused the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) of actions such as racial discrimination when providing loans and assistance, fights over the management of Indian trust accounts and resources, and battles of the water rights when regarding Indian tribes.

The money in the settlement for Black and Native American farmers totals $.4.6 billion.

“I’ve been working on this for 26 years,” said National Black Farmers Association founder John W. Boyd Jr., when speaking with the AmNews. “This process was a very difficult process. The bill is finally on its way to the president. My hat is off to the other Black farmers who have been waiting and who have been helping with this process. It’s been an uphill battle.” Boyd credits representatives like Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee, John Conyers Jr. and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus with assisting him in the victory.

“[We need to] quickly get the resources to farmers because they’ve been waiting many, many years,” said Boyd.

President Barack Obama praised the vote, saying it would end a not-so-memorable chapter in America’s history.

“I am pleased that today the House has joined the Senate in passing the Claims Settlement Act of 2010,” said Obama in a White House statement. “I want to thank Attorney General Holder and Secretaries Salazar and Vilsack for all their work to reach this outcome, and I applaud Congress for acting in a bipartisan fashion to bring this painful chapter in our nation’s history to a close.

“This bill also provides funding for settlements reached in four separate water rights suits brought by Native American tribes, and it represents a significant step forward in addressing the water needs of Indian country,” continued Obama. “Yet, while today’s vote demonstrates important progress, we must remember that much work remains to be done. And my administration will continue our efforts to resolve claims of past discrimination made by women and Hispanic farmers and others in a fair and timely manner.”

Attorney General Eric Holder, expressed satisfaction with the House’s vote as well.

““These are truly historic settlements that do not only resolve litigation, but also offer a new relationship between many deserving Americans and the federal agencies that play an important role in their lives,” said Holder. “Bringing this litigation to a close has been a priority for this Administration, and today’s vote in Congress is a significant, historic achievement. These cases provide fair deals for the plaintiffs and for the American taxpayers.”

But everyone isn’t happy with the victory for Black and Native American farmers. On the House floor Monday evening, Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, accused Obama of favoring African-Americans with his policies, particularly with this vote on the settlement bill.

“We have a very, very urban senator in Barack Obama,” said King while emphasizing the word “urban” during his speech. “[Obama] decided to run for president and what does he do? He introduces legislation to create a whole new Pigford claim.” King felt the issue with the Black farmers should’ve been settled with what he called “a handshake agreement” during the Bill Clinton administration in the 1990s.

King also noted that Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, who’s African-American, helped introduce legislation that would expand the government’s responsibility in the Black and Native American farmers’ settlement. King called for an investigation of the settlement claiming that it’s laced with fraudulent claims.

It’s something that Boyd is all too familiar with.

“This is not something new for him,” Boyd said. “Steve King has been to every hearing I testified in. He knows the issues and he knows that discrimination took place pervasively, and I think King’s comments have a racial undertone towards Blacks. I think that explains his actions.” Boyd also said that King once called the push for justice for ethnic minority farmers “modern day reparations.”

Minnesota Republican Michelle Bachmann joined King’s side, saying, “This looks like one of the most outrageously fraudulent claims of scamming the federal taxpayers that anyone has ever seen. It’s indefensible.”

But Boyd didn’t let the comments of people like King or Bachmann get to him. For now, he’s celebrating the victory but believes that it shouldn’t have taken this long for a decision, and that the relationship between Black farmers and the United States government is in desperate need of repair.

“It looks like when things happen for Blacks, it’s a tougher road to trod,” said Boyd. “Nothing should take 26 years to do. Absolutely, it’s a bittersweet victory for me. There’s a huge trust factor between Black farmers and the United State government, and it’s going to take some time to rebuild.”

The rebuilding process begins now.