African American farmers hold meeting in Earle, Arkansas - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Ben Watson

African American farmers hold meeting in Earle, Arkansas

Hundreds of African American farmers will meet Tuesday night with former congressman and the former USDA Secretary Mike Espy.  

Espy has agreed to advise farmers on how to get a piece of the new $300 billion farm bill.

This all stems from a 1999 class action lawsuit in which a judge ruled that the USDA had a history of discriminating against African-American farmers.

Some farmers in the lawsuit were awarded $50,000, but many others were told that they were not eligible because they filed for compensation after the deadline.

Congress passed a farm bill last month, which created a provision allowing those farmers to re-apply.

The bill also awards farmers forced out of business by USDA discrimination.

A Black Farmers and Agriculturist Association spokesman Thomas Burell said farmers will discuss a new class action lawsuit Tuesday evening.

He said it could help reverse the decline in African American owned farms.

"In 1920, we had according the the USDA and according to U.S. Census bureau figures, we had over one million African-American farmers today for all intents and purposed we have less than 1000," Burell said.
"I'm hopeful that this meeting tonight will bring us to a process and that's what the problem we had before was the process understanding the process we  didn't understand the process our attorney's didn't tell us about due process and what was in the process they enter into," Marion farmer Willie Gammon said.

Gammon said he is participating in the lawsuit with the hope of upgrading his farm to produce bio-fuels.

Attorneys said bio fuel production is the market of the future and the new farm bill is aimed at giving black farmers a piece of the action.

The meeting Gammon and other African-American farmers will attend tonight is scheduled to begin at six o'clock at Earle Elementary school in Earle, Arkansas. 

Several hundred farmers are expected to show up.

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