United Farmers makes Brundidge its home

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The national headquarters of the United Farmers USA has located in Brundidge.

The headquarters is operating out of the old Junior Foods building on South Main Street with Charlie Harris as president.

Harris said the purpose of United Farmers USA is to help black farmers apply for loans and grants and to assist those who believe they have been discriminated against when applying for loans.

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"This is a place of opportunity for black people," Harris said. "They can come here and get the assistance they need and the advice they need. Many black farmers were not included in the 1996 class action suit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) because they either didn't know they were eligible, didn't get the information in on time or didn't know how to fill out the forms. We don't want that to happen again. That's why we organized."

Harris said United Farmers USA is licensed in 35 states and has members all across the country.

"We have 7,000 members and we are growing every day," he said. "We have a national slate of officers and, we are fortunate that our headquarters is here in Pike County."

Harris said he was chosen to head the organization because his views and his vision are in line with that of the organization.

Harris was a plaintiff in the 1996 class action suit against USDA that claimed black farmers were discriminated against in a period from Jan. 1, 1981 through Dec. 31, 1996.

"Black farmers were denied loans because of their color - for no other reason," Harris said. "More than 12,000 black farmers received compensation in the amount of $50,000 as a result of the suit. But, there were about 61,000 who were denied the lawsuit because they didn't get their paperwork in on time. Pike County had the highest number of people to receive compensation from the lawsuit. That was because we got the papers filled out and in on time."

Harris participated in the class action suit but was one of 14 persons who did not accept the $50,000 settlement.

"I have every bit of the paperwork that I need to show that was not just compensation for me," Harris said, adding that a man in Virginia refused to settle and received $6 million.

"He had been discriminated against and he held out for what he thought he deserved," Harris said. "Another man in Alabama got $2 million. And, United Farmers USA will work to get compensation for those African Americans that were denied the suit."

Harris said plans are to attempt to reopen the class action suit - Cecil Bewington (Ala.) vs Annie M Veneman, secretary USDA — so that those who were not included in the suit will have an opportunity to take the government to task for race discrimination.

Harris said he is aware that some of those who received compensation were accused of never having farmed and others of never making application for a farm or home loan.

"All they had to do was attempt to farm," he said, adding that anyone who perjures himself in the lawsuit could be prosecuted.

"The purpose of the United Farmers USA is to make sure that those who were or are discriminated against will be made aware of what their rights are," Harris said. "The national meeting of the United Farmers USA will be held Saturday in Tuskegee. Attorneys and financial consultants will be there to direct us as to what actions we should take. Reopening the lawsuit against the U.S. government that denied opportunities to minorities will be the main topic of discussion. And, we also have a suit that will include women - women that suffered stress because their husbands were denied loans that would have made their lives better and more productive."

Harris said the "women's law suit" was spurred by the suit against USDA.

"These females were denied the opportunity to participate in the suit," he said. "That was not right because they suffered, too. We want to make sure they get the compensation they deserve because they were discriminated against by the government."

Membership in the United Farmers USA is $50 a year and is used to support the work of the organization.