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MEMPHIS, TN -1/2/2012
(WMC-TV) – A group of black farmers in Memphis is upset about some changes that could take money out of their pockets.
The farmers say President Obama is limiting their compensation in a longstanding discrimination lawsuit.
Monday, a large group of clergymen announced they'll serve as a voice for the farmers, as a critical deadline approaches.
"We're still in court," said Thomas Burrell, president of Black Farmers and Agriculturalists. "A lot of our folks have not become a part of this lawsuit."
Burrell joined clergy members to address a packed Temple Church of God in Christ, announcing a critical turning point in a 28-year court battle between black farmers and the United States Department of Agriculture.
"They want to move the black farmers out of their rightful place and they can no longer receive the award without signing away their rights," said Bishop David Allen Hall, Sr., of Temple Church of God in Christ.
In 1999, the courts ruled in Pigford vs. the USDA, that the USDA discriminated against black farmers when it came to granting loans and the like.
"They worked from sun up to sundown with very little to no profit," said Doris Arnett, herself a member of a farming family.
"Equipment kept them from flowering as farmers," said Hall. "Land was lost."
Clergy members say the news that black farmers were due a billion dollars was not properly announced.
"Class action suits say you're entitled to be notified of the award and then to have it applied in accordance with the law," Hall said.
They say only about 13,000 out of nearly 100,000 black farmers were aware of the deadline.
Last year, President Obama signed a decree allowing the remaining farmers to join the Pigford II lawsuit. But the new agreement has conditions: no appeals and capped compensations.