Friday, August 17, 2018

The Clock Is Ticking

When was the last time that you had that proverbial, "the clock is ticking" experience? What was the issue?  What would happen if certain things did not get done in a timely manner?  What would happen if things did indeed get done in a timely manner? What kind of pressure do you and I feel when our backs are against the wall, to use another metaphor?

The Grant family is in that situation.

The family has done a good job of representing itself pro se, or "on behalf of themselves." See this definition. Now, the United States Court of Federal Claims has asserted that the Grant family must  be represented by an attorney who can practice in that court. This requires expertise and it is expensive.

We invite you to support this noble cause.

How did things get to this level?  Here are some of the details that I wrote from the gofundme page in the past on behalf of Matthew and Florenza Grant. 

In the small historic community of Tillery, North Carolina, on a farm to market road, “Roanoke Drive” adjoining the Over the Farm Road, stands a granite sarcophagus, inscribed with the names of Matthew Grant and Florenza Moore Grant. Located where the family’s vegetable garden once was found lie the remains of these two good family farmers. They are still waiting for justice from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) as are their family and friends.

Matthew Grant was born just 50 years after slavery, his land-owning family, descendants of share-croppers in southern Virginia. Matthew married his beloved Florenza Moore in 1940 and together they formed a marriage and family that raised six children and numerous nephews and nieces, all educated from proceeds of farming in the Tillery Resettlement Community. 

Their stories of discrimination began in 1971 and remain unresolved to this day. They died prematurely in the battle to save their farm from foreclosure. At one time, it is estimated that they had spent 100,000 hours fighting the discriminatory practices of the USDA. They died before seeing justice. The estate is now fighting for justice for Matthew and Florenza.

On three separate occasions, the USDA and the DOJ admitted that discrimination had occurred. On each of these three occasions, they finagled their way out of honoring due process for Matthew and Florenza. 

Here is another report from the gofundme page. 

Summary of USDA’s Discriminatory Actions Toward the Grants

Admittedly, farming under the influence of the USDA is very complicated. Here is a brief summary of the injustices Matthew and Florenza Grant experienced at the hands of the USDA.

• Originally the Grants were foreclosed upon in 1976 for the sum of $10,000 following three years of county-wide disasters with little to no support from the county office in restructuring loans or other benefits given to any white farmer.

• In 1981 the Grants signed a “Consent Judgment” against their property such that the USDA would release farm equipment. This was, according to the USDA, a “settlement of sorts,” which allowed them to continue farming; however, the USDA refused to allow one son who was a farmer to assume their debt, but instead foreclosed on him as well. The USDA also refused to allow another son to assume the debt and would not work with the adult children on a monthly payment plan.

• In March, 1998, Matthew Grant and the USDA Civil Rights Officers signed a “FINAL RESOLUTION AGREEMENT,” documented with photographs of Secretary Glickman, other USDA officials, and two Grant sons after the signing of the agreement. This action is further documented in a letter from the Director of the Office of Civil Rights dated March 27, 1998. 

• In 2000, under the leadership of another Director of the Office of Civil Rights, the USDA offered a settlement which was deemed an insult by the family. The USDA said that they wanted to settle with the family once and for all. 

• Later in 2000, when it appeared that the USDA was reneging on their agreement, the Grants entered a class action suit Wise etal v. Veneman in a case that is yet to be settled.

• Upon Matthew and Florenza’s deaths (2001), the family heirs attempted to settle once more with the USDA. The requirement by the Department of Justice was that the action, withdrawal from the Wise law suit must be done “with prejudice,” a term signifying that charges could never be brought again. This would mean that all rights of the Grants would be surrendered, something all black farmers have faced.

• The USDA and DOJ are hiding behind technicalities such as no “similarly situated white farmer” was named. This is untrue. The family did point out a “similarly situated white farmer.” This claim is ludicrous.

• Currently, the family heirs are paying a large sum of money to a local bank that has paid off the federal government so that the land cannot be foreclosed upon. This monthly payment is weighty and onerous for the family.

• Justice is still left undone for Matthew and Florenza. This one final possibility through administrative procedures is the final opportunity for justice.

Here is a picture of Matthew Grant, his truck, and his dog. Below is a photo of the Grant family and my wife and me at the sarcophagus of Matthew and Florenza Grant. 


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Is Diplomacy Lost Forever or Merely Misplaced?

Seems like most days there is another sound bite by the man at the top of the pole insulting someone else, and I wonder to myself, "Is he setting the standard or is he simply reflecting the standard that has been set?" Kind of like movies.  How do they reflect culture versus how do they shape culture. Maybe the answer is both with the President* and with the movies.

Several years ago I worked with a gentleman in our youth ministry.  He was a tad older than my wife and me, deeply loved and respected by the kids, and we came to love him as well.  He moved on as did we.  When we finally met up six or eight years later, we were talking one day about how we were the same and how we were different.  His description of me was that I was pretty much the same, just a little smoother.  That certainly is not a term that I'd use to describe myself, but I asked and he told me the truth as he saw it.  It was hard to argue with.

I have always valued diplomacy.  Nowhere in my repertoire is a belief that anyone cares precisely what I think each and every time that any issue is on the table.  So, brutal honesty or truthfulness, though sometimes useful is not all of the time useful. Looking for commonalities, seeing things from a variety of viewpoints, and above all, respecting all others and their opinions were up the list of values.

In this day and age, whether in social media or in the media, we see insults of all sorts.  Some insults come via people you and I would respect.  Some come from people we do not respect. That distance that is created when we are talking to someone in cyberspace allows for more cruelty I suppose.

One person epitomizes these issues in my opinion far more than anyone else.  One who is called upon to lead with diplomacy is known for shooting from the hip.  He has become the chiefest of insulters.  Yes, I realize that I am insulting as I write.  Perhaps I, too, should be more careful.

Today I am most offended that he would call a Black woman a "dog." We know that is insulting, racist, and sexist. Even his spokeswoman tried to explain it away.

This afternoon I attempted to wade through an article in The New York Times that lists insults that the President* has made toward individuals or entities.  The list is "The 487 People, Places and  Things Donald Trump has Insulted on Twitter: A Complete List." I only made it through persons in the C's alphabetically.  You can hit the link for either chronological or alphabetical.

Here is the list I compiled:

"animal, fakers, biased, crazy, a waste, worst, incompetent, mediocre, ungrateful fool, sloppy, dumb, lost soul, sad, irrelevant, nut job, basket case, wacky, no talent, low-life, dopey, crazy, weak, not very bright, little, disaster, a joke, liar, leaker, clown, dummy, dumbest, dope, hell hole, dumb as a rock, low I. Q., very dumb, not very bright, neurotic, a mess, failed presidential candidate, weak, weakest, not a leader, pathetic, sad sack, low-energy stiff, embarrassment, pathetic, phony, too soft, miserable, arrogant, disaster, weak, no talent, sloppy, a total loser, grubby, third rate, lying machine, Wild Bill, hypocrite, terrible, failed badly, the real predators, crooked, Crooked Hilary, crooked H., corrupt, owned, lyin’, fear-mongering, brainwashed, dangerous, weak, corrupt, reckless and dangerous, enabler, totally flawed, ineffective, lightweight, flunky, dopey, disaster, Frankenstein, a Flake, unelectable, weak, ineffective, sneaky, disgrace, dog, low life, sleazy, wacky, crazy, neurotic dope, irrelevant, Punchy, low IQ individual, disgrace, inept, dishonest, flunkie, boring, biased, zero talent, unelectable, deceptive, dishonest, reckless, puppet, nervous wreck, cheater, Lyin’, weak, dishonest politician, desperate, hater, third rate, forgotten, lightweight, incompetent, stupid, slimeball, disgruntled, slippery, the worst." 

I feel a tad slimy, just cutting and pasting them onto the page. 

Why do I put them here?  Maybe from my own sense of curiosity.  Perhaps a tad of voyeurism. Perhaps an "I told you he was not a good person." Or maybe any number of other agendas you and I could co-create.

Ultimately, I want my children and grandchildren to have someone they admire, someone they hold to a higher standard, someone who sets the bar high, who encourages them to achieve and to strive toward goodness and kindness. I, too, want a leader that I can admire, one who leads with dignity, grace, justice, and integrity. And then, down the road a piece, I dream that my kids and grandkids will be the kind of person that others can admire, respect, and follow. 

That would be a grandfather's dream come true. 

Your thoughts about this list?  

Friday, August 10, 2018

Dear Lord Friday It Is

Dear Lord:

Friday it is
And I’m feeling tired
Been a long week
And in this life I’m mired.

Got my wife,
Got my dog
Got my home
Livin’ high on the hog.

Love my kids
My own
My grands
Lovin’ some of those seeds we’ve sown.

My body’s feelin’ good
Most of my days
Some days though
I walk through a haze.

This world is not my home
A lot of folks sing
I kind of like it here
But let freedom ring.

Some of us are free
Some of us are not
Some live on a shoestring
‘bout all they got.

Folks like me
With skin that’s white
Feel more power
And that’s not right.

Jesus taught us
To love one another
That woman over there
Is someone’s mother.

Judge not
Based on the color of the skin
Let’s get it right
And do this again.

In the eyes of God
The One who made us all
All are worthy
And no one’s small.

Treat people with respect
Is that so hard to do
Gotta get it right
Before we’re through.

There’s hope I feel
When I see the young
Caring for each other
Like a new day sprung.

Jim Crow’s gone
It got voted out
Still in those hearts
Makes us want to shout.

The young of the land
Seem to get it right
Respect and equality
They’re livin’ in the light.

Thanks very much
For showing us the way
For those of us who are older
Can see a brand new day.


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Our Own Civil Rights Mini-Tour

For some time, my wife and I had planned a brief trek across the South to see and experience some pivotal scenes in the history of civil rights in our country. Though the time was short, the experiences were deep.

We visited Money, Mississippi and the infamous Bryant's Grocery Store where Emmett Till was accused of whistling at the owner's wife. He died a brutal death within hours, and his murderers were deemed "not guilty" by an all white, male jury. Here are three scenes: 1) the marker in Money, 2) the store in its day, and 3) the gin where a 75 pound fan was seized and attached to his body before it was dumped in the Tallahatchie  River.

Marker at Bryant's Store

Store at it was in the day
The gin in Glendora
The gin is now the site of the Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center in Glendora, Mississippi. At the gin we made new friends from Friendswood, Texas and Greenwood, Mississippi. That was a memorable conversation.

New friends from Mississippi and Texas
The following day, we had a most remarkable experience. We wanted to visit the site of the iconic photo and demonstration of the Tugaloo students at the Woolworth's counter in Jackson, Mississippi. Woolworth's is now a parking garage, but the marker is there commemorating the event. Loki Mulholland, a friend in these battles for justice, has noted on numerous occasions and in his three documentaries that his mother, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, sat at the counter. Before leaving town, we determined to deliver document to one of the principals in our black farmer documentary. Most people up and down Capitol Street. His office building was under reconstruction.

    A last ditch effort found us walking into an office that promoted the city. 
Woolworth's Capital Street, Jackson

Charla and I were twinsying on this particular day, wearing our match Black Farmer Land Loss Summit t-shirts.  While we stood at the desk discussing our agenda with the officer personnel, a woman walked past us, did an immediate u-turn, came back, and said, to me, "My father was a black farmer." A  lively conversation ensued.
Matching black farmer t-shirts
She immediately called her friend, the wife of the gentleman we wished to see. We were ecstatic.  This photo is taken after that wonderful conversation. We were amazed that the confluence of forces led us into that office, to her, to her friend, and from her friend to the office of the person we wanted to see.

Thursday was a most remarkable and heart rending day as we went to the Legacy Museum in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, on the very site in which enslaved Africans were warehoused prior to being auctioned. A dream of Bryan Stephenson, The Legacy Museum covers enslaved through mass incarceration via video, audio, photography, and other means to capture the brutality meted out upon the backs of the enslaved and its history up to the current time. Dr. Marsha Vaughn, friend, former student at Abilene Christian University, and faculty member at Judson University, Elgin, Illinois, was the inspiration and prompt for the tour. She is passionate about matters of justice.

National Monument for Peace
Telling the story by Akoto-Bamfo
Trinity County Texas

Up the hill a quarter of a mile or so is the National Monument for Peace and Justice. Immediately inside the large open space at the bottom of the hill is a gripping piece of sculpture by artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo of Ghana.

The design of the National Monument was both intriguing and moving. Moving clock-wise, steel rectangular cylinders represented the county and state and the name and date of the lynched person. When I found my own county, Trinity County, Texas, I was deeply moved. And likely remain so for a while.

A trip to Alabama would be incomplete without a trip to Selma.  The home of the infamous Bloody Sunday, March7, 1965, in which those marching from Selma to Montgomery were turned around at the bottom of the bridge by police, guns, water hoses, guns and all manner of violence. My wife and I walked peacefully over the Edmund Pettus Bridge which symbolizes the best and the worst of America during the Civil Rights Movement, the worst because people died in Selma, and the best because justice was realized, ultimately. We had a lively conversation with three women from Chicago and Selma. 

Edmund Pettus Bridge
We walked the bridge and then we walked through the memorial garden on just below the bridge on the way to Montgomery. As we walked the bridge, we pondered the names and faces of people we have seen in the media, but more dramatically, we pondered the stories of people we have gotten to know who have given their very lives for justice. That list of people stretch across the south, up the eastern seaboard, and reaches into the Bronx. I plan to see Selma again along with a few more important movies. Someday soon, I will also listen to some interviews done with farmers through the years.  I will be moved. Their stories must be told. Their stories are the stories of the civil rights movement in America.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Forgive What?

This poem has a unique context. Yesterday at church, our preacher did a masterful job of speaking on forgiveness and how forgiving others is a mandate and a challenge.  Perhaps some day soon we can engage more around the process of forgiving, what it means, and what it does not mean.  All in all, it was a provocative and meaningful sermon.  While he preached, I wrote my own poem with included the words "you" and then a verb of mistreatment.

Then, I pulled out the journal again and the words that follow came out.  I owe the readers a disclaimer here.  I am not black.  My family members are not African American.  I do not have ancestors who survived the middle passage, slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the challenges of living while black, farming while black, or driving while black.

I have heard the stories again and again.

So it is with some trepidation that I offer the following.

Forgive What?
August 5, 2018

You stole me
            From my land and my people
            Sent me to a foreign land.           

You stuffed me
            Into the slave ships
            Harsh, hot, cold, brutal.

You auctioned me
            To the highest bidder
            Naked, demeaned, fondled.

You separated me
            From my wife, children
            From my children, husband.

You chained me
            And marched me to your plantation
            Placed me in shacks.

You raped me
            To satisfy yourself
            Though I was only an animal to you.

You demeaned me
            And my manhood, took my wife
            Called me nigger and boy.

You used me
            To make a dollar
            For yourself doing something you would not do.

You beat me
            Scalded me
            Salted me
            Chained me.

You reluctantly released me
            You wrote the Black Codes
            You used me in your tenant farm system.

You placed me in prisons
            And separated me from my family once more
            And profited from my labor.

You red-lined me
            Took away my vote and my education
            My dreams for a brighter future.

You segregated me and those I love
            Offered me separate but unequal
            Gave me water to drink from the colored fountain.

You called the cops on my children
            Murdered them beside the road and at the church
            Took my land.

You put bullets through my black body
             Left my mama without a son
             My children without a father.

Forgive you?
Forgive thee for what?
Are you kidding me?

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Willie's Story

Willie still farms on a place his grandfather purchased years ago. His modest single-wide sits beneath a beautiful oak tree whose limb stretches across the sandy loam road named for his deceased wife. His candor and gift of hospitality caught me off guard, as did his stories of how he almost lost his land.

It was a "ball and chain," he said, the practicalities and the humiliation of working under a supervised account, something that the white farmers did not have to do. He could not buy used equipment that would serve him well. He had to buy what the supervisor told him to buy. He got poor advice from an agent he trusted and lost money on his corn crop and pig farm operation.

While other farmers were getting their farm loan operating money in December, he would get his in April or May. That was too late to lease the good land, purchase the best seeds, get fertilizer into the soil. While his crops were just beginning to break through the dirt, his neighbors' crops were maturing. "My darkest days were when I would get a letter in the mail saying they were going to foreclose on me."

To supplement the family income, he had to drive hours away from the farm. His children grew up without him. His wife had health problems. She was diagnosed with asthma. She died from congestive heart failure. All, Willie says because he could not afford good medical care.

He came very close to losing his land, the land his family owned for generations. He prevailed under Pigford I. He barely kept his land.

His story is deep with themes of struggle and resilience. The stories left me stunned.

"My name is written in the land," he said. His story is written on my heart. I am committed to telling his story and stories of other farmers in places and spaces where they cannot go.

The stories must be told.

Reprinted from

Monday, July 16, 2018

Let Justice Ring: From the Voices in My Head

Let Justice Ring: From the Voices in My Head: The voices in my head Speak loudly of the past Whisper words of dread Encourage hope to the last. Cries of injustice Ring so clear ...