Black Farmers Gather in Tuskegee to Ask for Federal Help

June 16, 2008

TUSKEGEE, Ala. (WSFA) - Black farmers from around the state were in Tuskegee Monday learning how to apply for federal assistance denied them years ago. It's money the federal government agrees is owed to them. The problem is thousands of black farmers were never told about the deadline and missed it. Now,the federal government is giving them another chance.

They've come to Tuskegee from all over Alabama and even the southeast. "My name is Vanessa Wright from Tuscaloosa, Alabama." Another is from out of state. "We drove up from Hattisberg, Mississippi because we want to thank you for what you have done."

It's Congressman Artur Davis who helped get the farm bill through congress so black farmers who missed the deadline the first time can still claim their money. The farmers say they were never told about the deadline and that's why congress voted to extend it. U.S. Representative Artur Davis, (D) Alabama says "The result right now is the door was slammed in the face of a whole lot of folk in this room. Now, the door has been open for you. That's progress."

The Congressman and other experts came to Tuskegee to hear what the farmers are thinking and they got an earful. One man said, "If these people denied over 50% of black folks in the first lawsuit what makes us think they're not going to deny 50% of the black folks as we go forward?" Davis explained, "This is a new cause of action. It is not trough the administrative process. It's no monitor. It's no facilitator. It's gone into court." That means the outcome will be decided in court this time and not by an administrator. Davis is hoping it will became a class-action lawsuit so it will be settled quicker, within a year, but he's also thinking about what's going to happen two years from now. "I'll be very candid with you about this. Whether two years from now we look at this happily or unhappily is going to depend on who the next agriculture secretary is."

But, some of the folks don't want to wait that long. They want it now. One man seemed very upset. "We're ready for action. Time is now. Martin Luther King say 'How long? Too long.' Ten years done passed and we're still on this same subject about the black farmers' settlement."

There are also lawsuits for women farmers as well as native American and Hispanic farmers.

On another note, Congressman Davis says he will make an announcement in six months about his political future whether he'll be a candidate for governor.