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Black farmers ask Trump to affirm ruling against USDA in race-bias lawsuit

The daughter of the late plaintiff in the discrimination lawsuit involving the USDA, Ernestine Boyland (center) was in Memphis on Monday to reaffirm the family’s commitment to fight on.
(Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

by Lee R. Watkins, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Despite some controversial court rulings against it, the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association continues to fight and has seen momentum swing in its favor.  Now, the Memphis-based organization is asking President Donald Trump not to intervene and accept a court’s recent ruling.

“We are asking President Trump to direct his Attorney General (Jeff Sessions) not to continue to fight the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling,” BFAA President Thomas Burrell said Monday. “We would like for him (Trump) to affirm that the decision by the U.S. Courts of Appeal was the correct decision.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last week denied the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s motion to dismiss a class-action racial discrimination lawsuit for 15,000 BFAA members and their heirs.

‘We are asking President Trump to direct his attorney general not to continue to fight the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling. We would like for him (Trump) to affirm that the decision by the U.S. Courts of Appeal was the correct decision.’
— Thomas Burrell
BFAA President

The case is being brought by the descendants of Earnest L. Boyland, a black farmer who owned 100 acres of farmland in Mason, Tenn. The lawsuit claims that Epiq Systems, a private claims administrator hired by USDA, denied Boyland the right to fill out an application with the USDA because of his race and gender.  In July 2013, Boyland’s heirs received a letter affirming that the claim was denied because he was a black male.

Among the 150 local farmers and heirs of farmers at Monday’s press conference was Boyland’s daughter, Ernestine Boyland, 70. In 1999, the Pigford v. Glickman class-action lawsuit was settled in the favor of black farmers who claimed the USDA discriminated against them. Under the ruling, almost 16,000 farmers collected settlements totaling $1.06 billion. Thousands of farmers did not get an opportunity to file before the September 2000 deadline, so Congress added a provision to the 2008 Farm Bill allowing  additional claims to be filed.

Boyland is seeking her share of the settlement, and said she will not stop fighting for equal rights for black farmers.

“I believe he deserves these rights, and he fought so hard for black farmers,” Boyland said.  “That’s why I continue to fight. … I know some farmers received $50,000.  I’m not asking for $50,000. I want a reasonable portion when it is all said and done.”

David A. Hall, pastor of Temple Church of God In Christ and chairman of the Ecumenical Action Committee, encouraged members of the local branch to remain patient because the reward is near.

“They awarded us money and wrote a bankrupt check, and bounced it,” Hall said. “It is you that has been denied. … We are going back to the bank and saying, ‘put the money in the bag.’”

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