Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sherrod: The Albany Movement, New Communities, and Pigford

Shirley Sherrod's husband was one of the leaders of the Albany Movement. 

Apparently they were leaders of the New Communities: 
One of the most important initiatives of the Southwest Georgia Project was the organization of New Communities, Inc., a land trust. By January 1970, the group had purchased nearly 6000 acres of land in Lee County Georgia, which made it the largest single land mass owned by Blacks in the United States. The purpose of the project was to upgrade the quality of life of rural, poor, and mostly Black communities by offering meaningful employment, creating economic leverages to ensure and improve the income of small farmers, and ownership opportunities for its settlers.
Apparently the trust ended up losing the land, under circumstances which led to the award under the Pigford suit.  At this early date it's not clear the ins and outs of how the Sherrods' relate to the money awarded--are they still trustees and who would be the beneficiaries. Fox has a piece here.  My guess is that New Communities was one of the case subsumed under the Pigford class action suit.  The suit was resolved by having two tracks:  Let me quote from the 2005 CRS report:
The Pigford consent decree basically establishes a two-track dispute resolution mechanism for those seeking relief. The most widely-used option — Track A — provides a monetary settlement of $50,000 plus relief in the form of loan forgiveness and offsets of tax liability. Track A claimants had to present substantial evidence (i.e., a reasonable basis for finding that discrimination happened) that
! claimant owned or leased, or attempted to own or lease, farm land;
! claimant applied for a specific credit transaction at a USDA county office during the applicable period;
! the loan was denied, provided late, approved for a lesser amount than requested, encumbered by restrictive conditions, or USDA failed to provide appropriate loan service, and such treatment was less favorable than that accorded specifically identified, similarly situated white
farmers; and
! the USDA’s treatment of the loan application led to economic damage to the class member.

Alternatively, class participants could seek a larger, tailored payment by showing  evidence of greater damages under a Track B claim. Track B claimants had to prove their claims and actual damages by a preponderance of the evidence (i.e., it is more likely than not that their claim is valid). The documentation to support such a claim and the amount of relief are reviewed by a third party arbitrator, who makes a binding decision. The consent decree also provided injunctive relief, primarily in the form of priority consideration for loans and purchases, and technical assistance in filling out forms
Finally, plaintiffs were permitted to withdraw from the class and pursue their individual cases in federal court or through the USDA administrative process.

Sounds to me as if the New Communities must either have been a Track B, or an individual case. Although I've reservations about Pigford issues, the Track B cases are the most likely awards to be warranted, IMHO. And without knowing how awards are computed, the current market value of 6,000 acres of Georgia farmland would be high.

[Updated: it's possible the suit was outside Pigford entirely--no doubt this will be clarified as time goes on.]

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