News Column

Black Farmers Join Occupy Protesters

Jan. 17, 2012

Cindy Wolff

On a blustery Monday, surrounded by government buildings closed for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the cluster of tented protesters of Occupy Memphis were joined by a contingent of African-Americans.

Members of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, along with plumbers, electricians and other union members, stopped by Civic Center Plaza to bolster the effort of the local arm of Occupy Wall Street.

The movement, which began in September in New York, is a protest against banks, big corporations and Wall Street for "creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations," according to the group's website.

Monday's Downtown rally was part of a national effort to unite the mostly white Wall Street protesters with African American churches and organizations that fight injustice. Though they have different causes, the groups share similar concerns, such as the ever-widening gap between rich and poor.

Thomas Burrell, president of the black farmers association, stood in the back of a wagon being pulled by two horses to talk about the oppression black farmers believe they have suffered for decades from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The farmers settled a complicated class-action lawsuit that ultimately awarded them $2.7 billion in compensation. Thousands of those farmers haven't received their share, Burrell said.

There's a common thread among the civil rights movement, the ongoing fight for justice for black farmers and the protesters of Occupy Wall Street who are using their right to assemble in peaceful protest, Burrell said.

"When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Alabama 57 years ago, she planted the seed of citizens to defy their government when there is injustice," Burrell said.

Occupy Memphis started Oct. 15 at the Civic Center Plaza, with eyes trained on the federal building.

"It's about 1 percent vs. 99 percent," said Richard Robinson, a retired Memphis police officer who is part of Occupy Memphis. "This is everyone, policemen, firemen, reporters, farmers -- anyone who is not part of the 1 percent of the richest people in America."

The black farmers organization, along with pastors and leaders of other groups, want to encourage other groups associated with civil rights and justice to show support to the Occupy Wall Street movement.



Source: (c)2012 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)


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