Joe Biden: A Reckoning
Reckoning With Joe Biden’s Failures to Address Discrimination Within the United States Department of Agriculture
Election Day 2012. November 6. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. held a chance to make history times two. Their competitor on the grandest stage of America would be the creator of Obamacare himself: Governor Willard Romney. The American people stood a chance to show the world that despite the rampant and pervasive history of racism within our country, the first African American President could be elected not once but twice. NBC called the election in favor of President Obama at 11:12 PM, followed by CBS and Fox at 11:16 PM; followed by cheers from Black men and women in each American city, right?
No celebratory Election Day fireworks were set off by farmer Michael Stovall on November 6, 2012. While Donald Trump was finalizing his agenda to rid this country of its Black President Stain, District Judge Abdul Kallon was preparing to destroy Michael Stovall’s life. Judge Kallon was fulfilling the prophecy begun decades ago by the scaring of the foods — those nasty cow killers — those savvy suits sporting binoculars and futures contracts.
Michael Stovall represents something that elite Democrats will forever be afraid of: that a United States born Black person can go on to become more successful in their career than a United States born White person. It is this very mindset that cluttered the Obama Presidency and found its way into our federal courts throughout his two terms as President.
Abdul Kallon was born on April 5, 1969, in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Coming to America is a goal of many Sierra Leoneans with dreams of attending colonial colleges such as Rutgers, Harvard, and Princeton. Kallon would choose to attend New Hampshire’s Dartmouth, followed by Penn for his Juris Doctor, both chartered as colonial colleges by Great Britain. His education would prove to him a useful asset at megafirm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP in Birmingham, Alabama in the late 1990s, the same era and same federal District Court that Michael Stovall began his campaign against the United States Department of Agriculture.
“They killed my chickens. They murdered my cows. They lit my generator on fire. They stole my computers.” Michael Stovall depicts the events that occurred on his farms throughout the United States as acts funded by the federal government. Researchers Nathan Rosenberg and Bryce Stucki estimate that throughout the course of our nation’s history, the federal government has stolen from African Americans over $1 Trillion worth of land that is rightfully ours. To put this into visual figures, one 8R 310 John Deere Tractor will run a farmer at least $406,508. A new car is never worth more than the reusable road it’s being driven on.
We within the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees have made adamant attempts to explain to President Barack Obama and President-elect Joseph Biden Jr. the systemic racism within the United States Department of Agriculture. On January 9, 2009, the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights sent a letter to the Obama — Biden Transition Team discussing the problems facing urban and rural farmers in America. President Obama left us in the dust. The last Democrats in the Oval Office to give a hoot about us are Bill and Hillary Clinton, along with former Vice President Al Gore. Senator Elizabeth Warren, while not a sitting President, did add our recommendations into the Warren Farm Plan. Currently, two politicians among those giving most favor to the USDA Coalition are Republicans: North Carolina House Whip Jon Hardister and Representative Kristin Baker. It was, after all, Ronald Reagan who first exposed discrimination within the USDA.
On April 21, 2020, Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic sends a public cry to Joe Biden asking him to meet with the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees and myself, writing, “[Kordel] is one of the most interesting people I’ve met on this ‘reporting journey’ I’m on… His personal history of having food withheld from him in foster care is hair–raising — and yet he has used it to fuel a cause. Joe Biden team: meet with this young man. He’s a leader.”
Caitlin Flanagan’s demands were met. After meetings with Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, President-elect Joseph Biden Jr. finally gave us a meeting in the summer of 2020. It would be Trey Baker, Mr. Biden’s Director of African American Engagement, facilitating this meeting. “Hold on, let me go grab the Warren Plan off of the printer so I know what you’re talking about,” Mr. Baker tells us as we explain Elizabeth Warren’s Farm Plan that would increase the number of African American farmers. No meeting with crew Biden ever turned out to be substantial and has only helped to prove how little Mr. Biden cares for the Black farmer.
“What you’re asking for is unconstitutional,” Mr. Biden’s Policy Advisor Seema Sadanandan says to film director Dr. Waymon Hinson as he brings up farm policies for African Americans. “Laws make us unable to help one particular group.” Are such words any surprise? Mr. Biden is the same person who created the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 which led to the mass incarceration of African Americans. He told us throughout the 2020 election cycle, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or you’re for Trump, then you ain’t Black.” He ended his 2008 Presidential campaign after calling Senator Obama the “first” mainstream, articulate African American.
Barack Obama is far from the first mainstream, articulate African American. As I speak with Queen Sugar author Natalie Baszile, she explains to me scenes from history that translate to where the Black farmer is today.
“It’s obvious that Black farmers have struggled for generations, and special attention needs to be paid to their plight and struggles. If not now, when? It’s overtime.” Ms. Baszille’s work has helped to propel the Black Farmer movement forward, being transformed all the way into a television series by Oprah Winfrey. There were calls for Ms. Winfrey to run for President in 2020, in which we would have had only the second Presidential candidate, following Mr. Gore, who physically sits down with Black farmers and tries to understand their stories.
Some Black farmers, including Michael Stovall, believe that even most land-grant colleges are controlled by corporate interests. Many historians argue that any non-historically Black college or university is a predominantly white institution.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) often must find funding in different ways than predominantly white institutions do. The original Morrill Act of 1862 designated only two HBCUs as land-grant: University of the District of Columbia and University of the Virgin Islands. Nineteen additional HBCUs received land-grant status with the Morrill Act of 1890. In December of 2019, these schools received $255 Million in annual funding with a shocking signature: President Donald Trump. HBCUs went from September to December of 2019 with no funding before the Future Act was signed, due to Senate inaction. Democrats must create similar bills and plans in order to regain the trust of Black farmers.
When Senator Warren came out with her original Farm Plan in August 2019, the one problem the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees had with it was her over-reliance on “heirs’ property” as the reason Black farmers lost our land. Ms. Baszille exposes the lies behind that myth:
Black families with land live in Chicago and New York. Imagine your great grandfather buys 400 acres, but then it gets split between grand — children and great — grandchildren. If they are not working together, they can’t pay the taxes on the land, which may lead to land loss. It’s not always ignorance of Black people not understanding what they have, but it is not their choice. You also have the USDA deploying these tactics, forcing Black farmers off of their land. You have developers forcing Black farmers off the land. They can go up to one family member with the largest percentage of the land and get them to force a sale.
Government officials and developers consistently found their way to Michael Stovall’s land attempting to get him to sell. When he failed to nudge, they took matters into their own hands. Mr. Stovall estimates that throughout the years, the federal government stole from him alone over $32 Million worth of land, property, and capital. When Black farmers find themselves in Mr. Stovall’s shoes, they don’t run towards Mr. Biden in hopes of reparations or towards the government in hopes of land-grant extension agents. They run towards Attorney Jillian Hishaw.
“My own family, my great grandmother was taken advantage of by a dishonest lawyer. Kansas City, Missouri. The lawyer pocketed the money and the land was sold without notice to my family. The land was located in Oklahoma, part of where my family originated. This is why I got into this space.” Ms. Hishaw witnessed at a young age the inner working corruption of not only Washington but the Midwest.
A lawyer in Columbia, Missouri once told me, “Here in Missouri, just about every lawyer knows each other. A very tight-knit community. We all went to the same schools. And we all sue each other. We don’t do it because we hate each other–we do it because we’re friends. It’s how we play.” But are the Black men and women used and abused in between these cases so keen on the laughter-filled litigation?
In the summer of 2020, I sat at a protest-special City Council Meeting in Durham, North Carolina in front of the police station with Mayor Steve Schewel being the guest of honor. When we bring up the issues of Black farmer land loss within the city, Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson laughs and asks, “Do we even have any farms in Durham?” The point being all farms in the city are already supposed to be rezoned into multipurpose, new urbanism real estate. I walk Mayor Schewel to his car after the meeting, and as I inform him of the USDA Coalition and all we do to help Black farmers, he says to me, “You live in Raleigh? Do not email me.” Days before, Councilwoman DeDreana Freeman looks me in the eyes and says, “I see you went to Rutgers. I went to Rutgers. We need to get you over to Durham.”
Durham is fascinating. During a campaign stop for Mr. Biden in the city, Kerry Washington looks Aaron Thomas of WRAL-TV straight in the eyes and states “Olivia Pope is not real. She’s not going to make a difference.” It’s true — fictional characters such as Pope from the television series Scandal are not real — and it is up to us real Americans to educate our electorate on the issues facing us today. I stand here now in an effort to educate Mr. Biden and his Presidential transition team on the longstanding history of racism in America towards the Black farmer.
In 1994, Dr. Waymon Hinson is a counselor at Abilene Christian University. He receives a call one day from a San Antonio attorney asking the capacity in which he analyzes psychological evaluations. Dr. Hinson treats this phone call as the everyday lawyer looking for a consultant, until he gets told, “Dr. Hinson — I think I failed to communicate the seriousness of our concerns.” The phone call eventually ends and Dr. Hinson’s lifelong journey to help end USDA Discrimination begins.
Farmers come into Dr. Hinson’s office, their lives, their families having been destroyed by the federal government. To get a vast psychological evaluation of the toll being placed on Black farmers, Mr. Hinson first interviews the Black farmers. He then interviews their friends, family members, pastors, and congressman in order to get a cohesive analysis of the trauma endured. The reports are then sent off to Chicago, which are in turn sent off to actuaries, who decide how much money to sue the federal government for. This all starts in 1994, the same year Michael Stovall is denied a Farm Ownership loan and the same year Abdul Kallon joins Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP.
As the 2020 Election drags on and on but eventually ends, the ruling Judge Kallon lends Michael Stovall on Election day 2012 drags on and on but never ends. On November 17, 2020, the Director of the USDA National Appeals Division Frank M. Wood again made rulings on Judge Kallon’s 2012 Election day decision. Judicial candidate for the Berks County Magisterial District David P. Johnson is always quick to tell me the fifth amendment clause of the right to remain silent applies to criminal trials only. The Double Jeopardy Clause, also found in the fifth amendment, would help Mr. Stovall stray away from governmental corruption if Mr. Stovall had the ability to bring about criminal charges.
Within the Presidential transition period, Senator Elizabeth Warren has yet again emerged as the frontrunner in aiding Black farmers to reclaim our land. She has teamed up with Senators Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand and is set to hit the Senate floor around November 30, 2020, in order to launch the Justice for Black Farmers Act of 2020. The bill itself stems from the letter we wrote to Senator Warren on August 31, 2019, and will create an Equitable Land Access Service within the USDA which will allocate $8 billion of farmland per year to Black farmers. 160 acres can be allocated to each farmer, four times the amount allocated by General William Sherman’s January 16, 1865 Special Field Order №15, often referred to as “40 acres and a mule.”
Lawrence Lucas, President Emeritus of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees, calls the bill the Black Farmers Civil Rights Act of 2020. Senator Booker states that the bill follows growing civil rights interest following the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and that the policy changes will likely ferment when it is time to sign the Farm Bill of 2023. President-elect Joseph Biden Jr. has made no public statement on the bill, and his record shows little evidence of interest in signing such a bill.
On November 25, 2020, Corey Lea of the Cowtown Foundation Inc. sends a letter to President-elect Joseph Biden Jr. along with the Democratic Party leadership as a whole. He exposes the failures endured under the Obama Administration and analyzes the probability of Mr. Biden recreating those same wrongs. He also notes that President Trump has done more for Black farmers in four years than President Obama did in eight years. “If Donald Trump signs an executive order… to fix the Black farmer situation, those kinds of actions will be given great weight at the polls. The Black Farmers are not concerned on who fixes the problems, we need justice right now!”
North Carolina Representative Kristin Baker and House Whip Jon Hardister, both Republicans, are poised to yet again sit down with civil rights activists and listen to our demands. We will discuss the Justice for Black Farmers Act, prison reform, and other civil rights matters. Never have they called our requests to have Black Lives Matter “unconstitutional” as Biden’s transition team has yet have listened to our requests and invited us back to the table time after time. Mr. Biden states in his 2020 Election victory speech, “The African American community stood up for me. You always had my back — and I’ll have yours.” It is time for Mr. Biden to put some truth to his words.
In 2017, Mr. Biden sits down with Oprah Winfrey and discusses his chances of defeating Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries. He explains that he opted out of the 2016 race because his son Joseph Biden III was dying, not because he wanted to give way to a Hillary Clinton Presidency. Behind the scenes, Ms. Clinton plays the most consequential role for a Secretary of State since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Cordell Hull. “Hillary had a big say between Presidencies, and she chose — they chose — [Thomas] Vilsack and didn’t do a very good job of vetting. He left Ohio with a class action suit against him,” says Dr. Waymon Hinson.
It is rumored that Mr. Biden will again appoint Mr. Vilsack to the position of Secretary of Agriculture. When Cory Lea of the Cowtown Foundation Inc. first raises his concerns on Mr. Vilsack’s racist practices under the Obama Administration, he is told by the Congressional Black Caucus, “We don’t want to do anything to hurt this administration.” If hurting the Biden Administration is the only way to help Black farmers, then the Congressional Black Caucus must nudge Mr. Biden in the right direction.
South Carolina Representative James Clyburn stands against bringing Mr. Vilsack back into the White House, stating that it would lead to another racism filled Obama era third term. Mr. Clyburn suggests we bring in Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio, who leads the nutrition and oversight panel on the House Agriculture Committee. Mr. Clyburn believes the Department of Agriculture is more concerned with Midwest corporate interests than it is rural farmers in South Carolina. I ask you this question now: Does the Democratic Party truly stand up for diversity, and assist the marginalized and exploited as they advertise?
I once sat in a room at the Eagleton Institute of Politics and listened to Chief United States District Judge Freda Wolfson tell the story of her transfer from a judge to attorney in order to get her children through college. She had the skillset and education to become one of the greatest politicians in the country, proven by President George W. Bush’s selection of Ms. Wolfson to federal court, one of the few Democrats he ever appointed in an attempt to “rid the country of its Blue Wall.”
The questions and struggles Ms. Wolfon’s family faced are equal to what the Black farmers are asking. Is the future of our children more important than our careers? And in the case of the Black farmer, their careers are tied up to their land. Ms. Wolfson’s mother came here all the way from Europe and taught herself how to read English by reading the newspaper every morning. Judge Kallon never had to face such a task — the official language of Sierra Leone is English. Nigerians too have a head start on European immigrants, sidestepping African Americans in the process.
When Ms. Wolfson was presented a case in which a New Jersey high school argued that a disabled person should not be able to become Valedictorian, Ms. Wolfson ruled that the disabled student was indeed Valedictorian and that the student “earned her distinction as the top student in her class in spite of, not because of, her disability.” Ms. Wolfson smelled the discrimination from a mile away and she was not going to be played in her own courtroom.
We within the Black farming movement are not asking for grave changes simply due to the color of our skin. We are asking for grave changes because in spite of having built this country on our bare backs, we are still being exploited and marginalized. In spite of winning a $1.25 Billion Pigford II settlement in 2010, Black farmers are still discriminated against with respect to loan distribution.
In spite of not being an African American, Abdul Kallon rules on cases regarding African American land ownership. Judge Wolfson understands struggle and discrimination, her parents are Holocaust survivors. Ms. Wolfson understands the discrimination a disabled student can face when being declared Valedictorian. If we are not appointing judges and agriculture secretaries who can emphasize the plight of the Black farmer, how can we ensure fairness and equality throughout our judicial system?
Changes must come, and changes must come fast. Attorney Jillian Hishaw sees the situation getting worse before it gets better. Michael Stovall still goes to court every year in order to fight for the reparations he is entitled to under Pigford II. Mr. Stovall sat down in the USDA Oval Office with Designated survivor Thomas Vilsack and was told his money would soon come. Two years later, Obama appointed Abdul Kallon rules against Mr. Stovall, on election day. Charley and Ralph Angel’s Queen Sugar fight for justice does nothing to help us in reality, they are characters in a television series, yet their struggles are felt by real-world Black farmers all across America. And no land allotted via the American Homestead Acts was given to freed slaves, instead being given to, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “white peasants from Europe.”
It is time now, Mr. Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., to appoint a causal Secretary of Agriculture. You must also sign the Justice for Black Farmers Act of 2020. Or you will not be elected to a second term as President.
Joe Biden’s Director of African American Engagement Trey Baker failed to respond to a request for comment.
Follow Kordel on Twitter at @K_Dellz.