Black farmers are staging rallies across the South to ask the government to pay them $1.15 billion for enduring decades of discrimination.
The largest of the seven regional rallies is planned for today at 11 a.m. on Beale Street in Handy Park.
"Black farmers were brutally mistreated and discriminated against," said John Boyd, National Black Farmers Association president
The rallies, which began Saturday in Little Rock, will move east from state to state and end in Richmond, Va., on Saturday.
The National Black Farmers Association, which is organizing the events, will hold a national rally Feb. 15 in front of the U.S. Department of Agriculture building in Washington.
Boyd said the USDA has habitually denied farming loans to African-Americans, or given them less than white farmers.
Although the USDA settled a lawsuit out of court with black plaintiffs in 1999, Boyd said most black farmers had not heard about the legal action until after the filing deadline.
Now, about 80,000 black farmers who filed late are seeking restitution, he said.
"We need to bring closure to this case," Boyd said. "It's been going on too long. The farmers are frustrated when we have to go back and tell them, 'You have to wait a little longer.'"
One of the late filers, 62-year-old Allean Griggs, said her father had his loan applications denied several times, forcing him to pay white farmers to lend him operating equipment.
Griggs, who helped operate the Rossville, Tenn., farm for 25 years before moving to North Memphis, said she was going to the rally for answers.
"We need someone to tell us what we're doing and why," said Griggs, who has heard conflicting updates on the issue since she filed in 1998.
"I want to know who is behind this hold-up. I want a concrete answer."
Boyd said the NBFA will hold question and answer sessions at the rallies to let confused farmers know where they stand and what the next step is.
He said the organization has tried and failed "numerous times" to tack the $1.15 billion onto existing bills in Congress, despite support from President Barack Obama, who has added the expense to the budget.
With growing support from Democratic leadership and the White House, Boyd said he expected restitution to be given to black farmers before the end of 2010