Hundreds of black farmers and their families, many of whom have lost their farms and livelihood, gathered at an Oklahoma City conference room Friday, waiting patiently for their names to be called.
They were there seeking legal advice and help filling out paperwork that will determine whether they are eligible to receive money from a $1.2 billion settlement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“I'm here to get what's due to me,” Frank Smith, a former farmer said. “The USDA was not fair. That's the way it was.”
Smith's grandfather, a railroad worker, started a farm near Spencer, the same one Smith lost when he attempted to get a loan from the USDA to help take care of his hogs, cattle, chickens, rabbits and other animals.
The Black Farmers
“Many of these folks, between 1981 and 1996, attempted to receive loans from the USDA, and were denied based upon their race,” said Greg Francis, co-lead counsel.” Many of these farmers lost their land. They lost their crops, their cattle ... they lost the opportunity to farm.”
Francis is going around the country with a team of lawyers offering advice to potential claimants, a tour entirely funded as part of the settlement. In addition to the event Friday in Oklahoma City, they were in Hugo on Thursday and will hold meetings Saturday in Tulsa.
About the settlement
The suit was settled in 1999 and set a record for a civil rights settlement.
Following the settlement, more than 60,000 people turned in claims for assistance after an Oct. 12, 1999 deadline passed, primarily because they weren't notified properly, said Willard Tillman, executive director of the Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project.
After years of lobbying, Congress passed and the president signed a measure included in the 2008 Farm Bill that let late applicants pursue claims. In 2010, $1.2 billion was designated to fund the new settlement.
Tillman said this time attorneys and advocates are working hard to make sure everyone who could qualify is given due notice.
Anyone who thinks they are owed a share of the settlement must provide identifying information, the location of their farm, details of how they were denied a loan and other facts, Francis said.
Unlike the original Pigford settlement, there is no appeals process, which means the applications must be completed as accurately as possible on the first try. Paperwork is due May 11.
Many lost farms
Nearly 200 people attended the event Friday at the Embassy Suites Hotel. Syvertic King, of Prague in Lincoln County, comes from a long history of family farmers. King's family grew peanuts and cotton, and raised hogs, chickens and cattle.
In his adult years, King fell on hard times and eventually had to stop farming.
“I want to farm, I want to ranch again ... we just
E.T. Taylor recalled the hard work and reward he found in his farm near Spencer. When he applied for a USDA loan he was denied. He was forced to give the farm up.
Taylor said since he lost the farm he has struggled to make enough money.
Tillman said some of the most challenging cases are from children of deceased farmers who were denied loans. As long as they are able to produce the same detailed information as any other land owner, they are entitled to awards if approved.
“I'm here because of my dad,” Carolyn Winrow said. “He passed away waiting for all this to be resolved.”
Booker Winrow owned a small farm near Earlsboro in Pottawatomie County, mainly raising cattle and horses. The farmland is still in the family, but no one lives there anymore.
Lois Vaughn drove from El Reno to attend Friday's event for her dad, W.T., who died in 2006. At one time he was raising 100 pigs, but when he applied for a loan to build a new fence, he was denied.
“He needed a stronger fence so the stock wouldn't get out in the night,” Vaughn said.
Francis said people who submit applications have two possible options: The first one limits their payment to as much as $50,000. The second track could award up to $250,000, but it involves more rigorous examinations of farm finances.
After the May 11 deadline, all applications will go to a group of neutral reviewers who will decide who is eligible to receive a monetary award.
For more information on the Black Farmers Settlement, go to www.