Date: Tue, 22 Apr 97 10:48:17 CDT
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Black Farmers Discuss Their Fight To Stay On The Land
Organization: InfoMatch Internet - Vancouver BC
Black Farmers Discuss Their Fight To Stay On The Land
By Stu Singer and Joan Paltrineri,
in The Militant, Vol. 61, no 16
21 April 1997
TILLERY, North Carolina - One hundred twenty five Black
farmers, land owners, and others met near here March 20-22
to discuss and plan measures to respond to the crisis of
Black farmers. The gathering supported a call by the
National Black Farmers Association for a demonstration in
Washington April 23 to protest continued racist
discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
While "Black Land Loss" was the title of the conference,
Marcus Tillery, one of the conference organizers, explained,
"The land isn't lost, it's being taken."
Conference participants included about a dozen working
farmers, one a white farmer from New York state and the
others Black farmers from Virginia, North and South
Carolina, and Georgia. About a dozen Black landowners also
participated. Their families no longer farm but they still
hold title to land.
There were also a number of college students from Hampton
University in Virginia, the University of North Carolina in
Chapel Hill, and Clemson University in South Carolina. And
there were people connected with projects on agricultural
development, environmental issues, and rural development.
Some Black elected officials from the area made appearances.
Marcus Tillery said at a plenary session of the
conference, "We must unite across social, political,
religious and geographic boundaries. A farmer being cheated
out of his land in Honduras is no different than one losing
his land in Tillery. If they're not burning crosses today,
they are posting foreclosure notices to accomplish the same
There was a lot of formal and informal discussion about a
USDA report titled "Civil Rights at the US Department of
Agriculture," which documents blatant discrimination by this
government agency. The report says: "According to the most
recent census of agriculture ... for African Americans the
number [of farms] fell from 925,000, 14 percent of all farms
in 1920, to only 18,000, 1 percent of all farms in 1992."
Discrimination against Chicano, Native American, and women
farmers is acknowledged as well as ongoing discrimination
within the USDA itself against oppressed nationalities,
women, disabled and gay workers.
But the recommendations at the end of report only call
for more reviews, more levels of bureaucracy, and little
action. On the decisive question of farm foreclosures, there
are no remedies provided for the tens of thousands of unjust
foreclosures that have already taken place.
A demonstration organized by Black farmers in Washington
December 12 won a temporary moratorium on foreclosures, but
it will end next December. Eddie Slaughter, a farmer and
paper mill worker from Buena Vista, Georgia, predicted that
when it is lifted as many as half the current Black farmers
will face the real threat of losing their farms.
Willie Ruffin, a hog farmer from Windsor, North Carolina
described the bind he has faced trying to maintain the farm
that has been in his family since the early 1900s. "I tried
to get into contract hog production, but they required a net
worth of $400,000 which I don't have. So I have to raise
hogs as an independent, but packers, like Smithfield, pay
higher prices to the contract farmers. In October we had to
sell our property because we owed more in back taxes and
loans than we could pay. So now we are leasing back our own
land and renting back our own house and still trying to make
the farm work."
Militant readers interested in more information about the
April 23 demonstration can call John Boyd of the National
Black Farmers Association at 804-447-7825 or Gary Grant of
Concerned Citizens of Tillery at 919-826-3244.
Stu Singer is a member of the United Transportation Union
in Washington, D.C. Joan Paltrineri is a member of the Union
of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees in
Greensboro, North Carolina. Ken Morgan in Baltimore
contributed to this article.
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