Local defends black farmers

Published 9:01 pm Friday, August 13, 2010

A Clanton man is fighting for closure in a decade-old settlement that promised $50,000 each to black farmers who claimed they were victims of racial discrimination.

Evangelist Robert Binion was in Washington, D.C. last Wednesday where he gathered with a small group of black farmers in front of the U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters and met with U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas) and other leaders.

Binion, president of the National Black Farmers Association’s Southern Region, organized a meeting at the Clanton Recreation Center on Thursday to update local farmers on the lawsuit and answer questions. He has also visited local and regional governmental bodies asking them to support what he has dubbed a “caravan” to Washington on Sept. 15-18, 2010.

“We’re going to caravan north,” Binion said. “We’re going to ask the leaders up there to be serious about what they’re doing. They’re playing games with us.”

The issue dates back to the 1997 Pigford v. Glickman case against USDA, a class action lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in the distribution of farm loans and assistance to black farmers between 1983 and 1997. The case was settled 11 years ago with the U.S. government agreeing to pay qualified farmers specific amounts of compensation.

In April 2009, the U.S. House passed a resolution alleging that the USDA “continues discriminatory practices regarding the allocation of loans and other assistance for black farmers.”

In July of this year, the House approved a war supplemental bill including money to pay for the settlement, but the Senate has failed repeatedly to approve the bill — chiefly due to disagreements between Republicans and Democrats as to how the settlement should be funded.

Binion, a local peach and watermelon farmer, said he was denied loans three times, in 2001, 2006 and 2008. He also fears that young black would-be farmers have been deterred from getting beginners’ loans.

“That’s why this fight has to continue,” Binion said. “I’m not asking for a handout, but give me what’s due to me,” he said.

Binion says the upcoming caravan will be a “nonviolent movement.” Two buses will depart from the E.M. Henry Skills Center in Clanton on the morning of Sept. 15.

Other buses will leave from Huntsville, Tuskegee, Montgomery and other areas.
“On the first day, all we will do is praise God,” he said. “The next day we will visit all the halls of justice.”

Binion plans on going to Washington in the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, from which he drew a comparison.

“When the movement started in the South, it took all of us to do it. It’s going to take black folks and white folks to ask and demand that these folks pay us,” he said.

For more information, Binion can be reached at 280-2634 or 205-299-1873.