I’m sure you’ve seen the reports and claims … regarding the census and how the numbers (of black farmers) don’t line up with the class size. Have you heard those claims? How do they stack up?

“Number one, the complaints went back from 1981 to 1997. Now, because it’s taken so damned long, there are heirs involved in this. They’re going to count. And you have the actual black farmers (who) between 1981 and 1997 filed a lot of complaints.

“Many tens of thousands (of complaints) were found at the USDA in boxes that had never been processed. That’s why the definition of the class action went from 1981 to 1997.

“I wanted to go back to 1960 when we saw the biggest drop of land loss for blacks. But that didn’t work.

“They (started claims in) 1981 … because that was the year the civil rights office was closed during the Reagan administration. It didn’t reopen until the Clinton administration (provided) money to reopen it and they began to look at all the complaints black farmers had been sending to the USDA that were stacked up in boxes…

“Let’s face the facts, here: the USDA was the last federal arm to integrate. They filed lawsuits to keep black people from working there. That’s the history of the USDA — not something to be proud of.

“But I do think we have a chance to make the USDA a better place by settling this case and paying those farmers who were discriminated against some type of restitution. And that’s what this is about.”

I spoke with folks who were members of the original class (about) the lawyers who went around trying to pick up clients. Was that atmosphere too carnival-like and did it contribute to delegitimize the legitimate claims that existed?

“There were mistakes made in the first settlement. That’s why I’m doing everything I can not to make those mistakes again.

“One was that discovery was waived. I think that was a mistake.

“But the USDA … never sent out a class notification to all the thousands of (farmers who filed discrimination complaints). So, again, the government was not the black farmers’ friend.

“That’s why so many farmers came in after the (first) filing deadline. They really didn’t know about it. You’re talking about the deep South. Recently, I was down in a farmer’s house who didn’t have running water. I’m trying to help him get running water in his house in 2010!

“So, when I hear about the economy and helping depressed areas, this settlement will help the most depressed areas in the South where the black farmers live. Many have never left the county they live in. And they’ll spend (settlement) resources in the counties where they live.

“The settlement is a win/win for everyone involved. Prolonging it and not finalizing it by the Senate not giving the final nod makes everyone involved look bad. They’ve got everybody involved looking bad, including the leadership.”


The reaction since the (missed) deadline on March 31? Are claimants still assuming that money is (headed to) them?

“Many of the farmers are involved in conference calls. We have conference calls with farmers that have been leaders in their states. They merely want to know why this can’t be done. … They see it as the Senate not wanting to help black farmers. Period.

“It’s hard to explain that it’s part of a larger political gridlock.”