The critics and naysayers – a most of which have been African Americans – have been many. They insist that it is a waste of time for representatives of black farmers to visit the White House and talk with members of an administration that is insensitive to the concerns of African Americans and others.
But Church of God in Christ Bishop David Allen Hall, ecumenical advisor to the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (BFAA), said it simply had to be done.
“The door was open, and we were cordially received,” said Hall. “You can’t effect change outside of the room. If change is going to take place, then you must have a seat at the table. This was an opportunity to advance the cause of black farmers, those millions of people we represent, and we were given a seat at the table. We have the ear of this administration.”
At a Tuesday meeting, a small delegation of ministers met with attorney Kevin Childs (who is African American, senior advisor to President Donald Trump, specifically working in the area of economic development. BFAA has fought for decades to secure compensation for black farmers, particularly in the south, who have historically have been on the receiving end of discriminatory practices from public and private entities.
“The church has always been the main mechanism through which we have mobilized our community,” said Hall, who is pastor of Temple Church of God in Christ. “There is no distinction. We are not from one church – we are Baptists, Methodists, Holiness. We represent farmers of various denominations.
“And we are united in pushing to have the $1.6 billion paid out to 17,000 farmers and their heirs for racial injustice suffered over the years.”
As Childs “takes what was discussed up the line to the President,” Hall hopes to cut through years of red tape and delays in paying the claims of aggrieved farmers, who charged that crop loans and other farm aid resources were systematically and intentionally withheld on the basis of race.
A 1999 appellate court ruled in favor of those black farmers who had filed a class action suit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), upholding their claims and ordering the payout and settlement of the litigation.
Nearly 20 years later, claimants have yet to see a dime of that money.
“We’re talking about the Black Belt,” said Hall. “We are championing the cause of some 20 million blacks across 620 counties, from Virginia to east Texas. They are still suffering high rates of infant mortality and poverty. They have waited for these settlements to be paid, and we are grateful for a leader who is willing to listen to our issues.”
Recent tariffs have further threatened the well being of rural populations, particularly soybean farmers who are being hurt financially. Hall commended the Trump administration for pledging $12 billion in relief and assistance. He wants Trump to order the payments that black farm families have been waiting on for almost two decades. Farmers, Hall noted, are a key constituency of the Republican Party.
BFAA President Thomas Burrell said the organization was grateful for the delegation and hopeful that some positive results will be realized.
“We are grateful that our spiritual advisor was invited to one of the most important addresses on the planet,” said Burrell. “This invitation to the White House was a direct consequence of our attendance at the annual convention of the Farm Bureau in January. We were personally invited by President Trump to the Nashville meeting. Another meeting is already in the works. We are appreciative of these opportunities.”
Hall also requested assistance in establishing a Black Farmers Credit Union to address the banking needs of association members. The delegation also met with Senator Tim Scott’s staff. His South Carolina district is one of the poorest, rural areas in the South, said Hall.
“Everyone was very gracious and attentive to our concerns,” said Hall. “We are looking forward to our next Washington visit. We are hopeful that a positive benefit comes out of this meeting. We are satisfied that our agenda on behalf of black farmers everywhere was advanced.”
Burrell and other black farmers said a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus is on the organization’s agenda in coming months.
Hall and the BFAA delegation were originally slated to meet with President Trump in a 9:30 a.m. meeting. A last-minute glitch thwarted that prospect.
“One of the ministers in the group had an assistant working on the protocols for the face-to-face meeting with the President,” said BFAA public relations representative Patricia Rogers. “But Bishop Hall got there and discovered that the process had not been completed. Attorney Childs welcomed the delegation to meet with him. So that’s what happened; we believe the meeting was very, very productive, nevertheless.”