-Guest Columnist-

(FinalCall.com) – In an article called “The Achilles’ Heel of the Reparations Lawsuits,” Henry Mark Holzer points out four legal flaws in current reparations lawsuits: 1. There are no legitimate plaintiffs, i.e. the reparations lawsuits have been brought by people who were not slaves, and thus have no grievances; 2. There is no recognizable legal claim, i.e. slavery was legal; 3. There are no legitimate defendants, i.e. plaintiffs can not trace a causal connection of present damages to specific defendants; and 4. There are no provable damages.

However, the Black farmers’ claims were legitimate and quantifiable: The government caused them to lose land, money and equipment which could be documented. The farmers could also document the government’s negligence by its dismantling the office of Civil Rights in the USDA which had the responsibility of insuring their rights. They had clear grievances, identifiable plaintiffs and sued the entity clearly responsible, i.e. the USDA.

All class action lawsuits filed by Black lawyers including those filed in 1990 and 1997 were thrown out of federal court until a White “do-gooder” lawyer named Alexander Pires showed up in 1998. By the end of 1998, Mr. Pires had accepted a consent decree on behalf of the Black farmers as a settlement in the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit against the USDA. The Black farmers protested the “details” of the consent decree in federal court to Judge Friedman in March of 1999 which they knew would lead to the dismal outcome that they now face. The farmers went back to federal court in July, 2000 to ask Judge Friedman to throw it out and start over again. Most of the motions to help the farmers were thrown out by him, while many motions that allowed the government to stall the process and get out of paying farmers and removing their debt to the USDA were allowed.


It was now November 2003, and the consent decree was scheduled to end April 14, 2004. Yet, the farmers are still suffering and still protesting. Only 60 percent of the applicants prevailed and most of those who did prevail were either non-farmers or farmers with no intention of going back into farming. Even the monies that were dispersed were spread out over a number of years, so that the farmers could not put their resources together to move forward collectively.

The united front that Judge Friedman admitted was the force that pushed the government into the consent decree has been broken. Now each group blames the other for not doing enough to make the government abide by its own piece of paper. And now, as the great American engine of prosperity is wearing down, it seems that she will attempt to leave her once slaves in a squabble over yet another attempt of receiving reparations.

The reparations movement has now entered a very serious stage of its development. White “do gooder” lawyers such as Alexander Pires, the lead attorney in the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit, and others are developing reparations lawsuits to present to the court. Based on past experience, it is very likely that the “white” brand of “paper” will be accepted by the court leading Black people down the same trail of tears that Pires led the Black farmers through.

We are not saying that Reparations is not justified. However, the form of such reparations, including the methods to insure that the “instrument” chosen will produce the desired results of repairing the victims, must be carefully analyzed in light of the continuing saga of the Black farmers.

The continuing recalcitrance of the United States government to correct an obvious, recent and correctable wrong should prove to all concerned that the issue of reparations for wrongs done over 150 years ago leading up to today is not being forced upon the innocent White victims of today. White people and their governments are still in the unrepentant practice of stealing resources, legislating unfair advantage, denying their own guilt and denying justice to their victims. Reparations movement leaders must beware of the “Snake in the Reparations’ Grass” that continues to bite the Black farmers.

(Dr. Ridgley Muhammad is manager of Muhammad Farms in Georgia.)