A Black Farmer Against Pigford

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 6 2010 5:08 PM

A Black Farmer Against Pigford

In 1994, Jimmy Dismuke purchased a hog farm in Arkansas. He made, he remembers, around $83,700 in his first year running it. He remembers this number because the farm was found to be out of federal compliance, and he would spend the next few years trying to rectify the situation, and the years after that criticizing lawyers whom he felt were exploiting black farmers like him to get a settlement that wouldn't go to them.

Dismuke is talking about this because conservatives have been heaping criticism on the Pigford settlement, finally moving through Congress, that hands over money to black farmers who were victims of discrimination. He posted some information about his story online last week, and today he has a lead story on Big Government arguing that the lawyers who got the settlement were behind a "scam" and that the National Black Farmers Association is part of it.

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"I actually was discriminated against," Dismuke told me. "The farm I bought, from a white farmer, was about to be out of compliance. I'd just bought a brood herd for $30,000 when that happened."

According to Dismuke, he looked for a lawyer to take his case -- one of many cases that would eventually be settled -- and talked to Al Pires. In Dismuke's telling, Pires moved on because he didn't see the case; Dismuke figured the lawyer didn't see much of a financial incentive in taking it on.

"I did get a settlement," he says. He went for the smaller "Pigford I" settlement, as opposed to the drawn-out fight that became "Pigford II" -- the one that Shirley Sherrod had a part of if. He got $50,000, and he was done with his own settlement process. But he says he spent years contacting media organizations to inform them that the lawyers and groups pushing for "Pigford II" were looking for a giant pool of money not really connected to actual damage to farmers. His version of the story is only getting attention because conservatives have been raising hell about the new settlement.

"It probably touches some congressmen," he speculates. "It probably touches some federal judges."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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