[Documents menu] Documents menu
Sender: o-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Tue, 22 Apr 97 10:48:17 CDT
From: bghauk@berlin.infomatch.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Black Farmers Discuss Their Fight To Stay On The Land
Organization: InfoMatch Internet - Vancouver BC
Article: 9522

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 thing."

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.

To get an introductory 12-week subscription to the Militant in the U.S., send $10 US to: The Militant, 410 West Street, New York, NY 10014.

For subscription rates to other countries, send e-mail to themilitant@igc.apc.org or write to the above address.