Africville, the National Black Farmers Association and Caribana


On September 1, 2011, CNN carried a report: “Black farmers’ case close to conclusion as settlement decision nears”.

This is a case specific to the National Black Farmers Association of America. They have been fighting a case of massive discrimination against them by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While the USDA for decades provided billions of dollars to White farmers in states like Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, etc., the Black farmers were not only denied similar federal funds, but in their efforts seeking redress were also charged legal fees in the millions and because of which many had their farms and equipment seized as payment for these debts.

At a hearing this month, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman said, “I need to determine if it is fair, adequate and reasonable.”

The proposed settlement is a descendant of a similar lawsuit dating back to the 1980s known as the “Pigford Case,” named after Tim Pigford, a Black farmer who claimed racial bias in applications for USDA programs and financing. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told reporters there’s no question the damages are due for Black farmers who suffered from previous discrimination by local and regional staff at the Agriculture Department.

Congress agreed to fund this latest settlement as a provision in the 2008 farm bill signed by President Barack Obama who had said, “… this is justice too long delayed and overdue.” Tea Party presidential contender Michelle Bachmann’s most recent response was to describe this as “… Washington wasteful spending, and … racist …”

The case reported on by CNN is really the story of a Black farmer named John Boyd, the great grandson of enslaved Americans. Boyd refused to buckle under, or run even after his home was one night invaded by Klansmen who, to make their point, shoved a rifle into his mouth.

When Boyd addressed Judge Friedman, backed by other farmers wearing t-shirts printed with “We support John Boyd – Pay The Black Farmers”, on many occasions they broke into resounding applause, not allowed in court. The judge did not stop them. If the NBFA finally succeeds in its quest for justice, in will be yet another ‘Rosa Parks’ moment, that is, it takes one determined individual, backed by an issue of justice, to win victory.

Among the points here is that when others, including other Black people, decry the systemic poverty that still afflicts our communities, the accusation is usually that we have not stirred ourselves enough. The real history behind our poverty is not indolence on our part but the fact that wherever we are we must strive harder and go further, and if we will instruct our children well we must insist that they succeed despite any odds placed before them by others and also by themselves.

This case reported by CNN is redolent with historic resonance. Given what is at stake and what has occurred and why, this report has links to Africville, the Company Towns in Trinidad & Tobago, the Black Loyalists of 1812, Caribana, the Montreal Jazz Festival, and the whole stream of Black history going all the way back to the European “Age of Discovery”.

The case of these Black farmers in their search for justice also has links to the three major consequences of this European “Discovery” i.e., the continuing supremacy of European power and ideas, the destruction of the Aboriginal peoples and culture in this hemisphere and elsewhere, and the enslavement and despoiling of Africans and of Africa.

This is so because the history of what is euphemistically referred to as the “Age of Discovery” was the forcible removal of the Original Peoples in the Americas by Europeans, replacing them with enslaved Africans stolen from their lands to work lands stolen by the Europeans from the Original Peoples.

So, what is specific in the above to our community’s reclaiming Caribana?

European history and exploits in the last four centuries in this hemisphere have generally been about two things: seizing property and imposing taxes. About seizing the lands belonging to the ‘natives’ and then taxing the ‘natives’ every which way to hell. Therefore, in what was called Rhodesia, today’s Zimbabwe, the British imposed a ‘Hut Tax’, a ‘Head Tax’ and a ‘Cattle Tax’ because the colonized Africans had huts, heads, and cattle.

In the same way that Africville was a piece of real estate seized and used by the authorities in Nova Scotia, so too, is Caribana, and like the Montreal Jazz Festival, another piece of property, a piece of cultural real estate which like any other piece of property is and was to be leveraged to the benefits of Caribana’s creators and owners.

Farrell is a retired educator and a former board member and chair of the Caribbean Cultural Committee, the owners of Caribana.

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