Thomas Burrell, head of the Black Farmers Agricultural Association, Inc., is not ready to leave the Pigford settlement business without a fight.
Despite recent court setbacks, he is still threatening legal action. The fact that Burrell is calling out President Barack Obama seems to signal that Burrell feels he has to play hardball and threaten the tacit agreement that was made between candidate Obama and a number of self-styled "black leaders" about the Pigford settlement and the African-American vote several years ago.
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This recent news report from Tennessee shows Burrell and local clergymen taking public aim at the President. Burrell correctly points out that the Pigford 2 settlement for black farmers has a number of restrictions on it that new settlements for women and Latino farmers do not have. The disparity is actually somewhat bizarre, and will be the topic of further reporting in the future.
However, Burrell's refusal to go down quietly on the issue signals a potential problem for Barack Obama's 2012 campaign strategy that would be missed by many observers who don't understand the connection between Obama and Pigford.
Even though most of the voting public has never heard of the Pigford settlement, it's much better known in the black community. Black voters have never been a complete shoo-in for Barack Obama, as questions were openly raised in the run-up to the 2008 election as to whether candidate Obama was "black enough" to resonate with African-Americans.
Skeptics who wonder whether the seemingly obscure Pigford settlement is actually such a big issue between Obama and black voters don't really need to look far. During the July 2010 firestorm over Shirley Sherrod’s dismissal by the USDA, April Ryan, the White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Network, appeared on a panel discussion on CNN
. Ms. Ryan laid out the case that Obama’s support for Pigford was a "litmus test" for the President:
I think one of the reasons why race has stuck like glue to this president, especially right now--a Democratic source said this poignantly--there have been major milestones with this administration but blacks don't feel like they're very linked to it. I think there will be a litmus test for this administration--no, I don't think, I know--it's the black farmers settlement. President Obama put $1.25 billion in his 2011 budget and we’ll see if Congress does push through this money. If no,t the president can just go on and do it through the judgment fund as well, he can do it on his own. So, we'll see what happens.
Another panelist chimes in:
Yeah, that's going to be the measuring stick right there, April--if the black farmers get their money.
You'll notice that nobody on the panel was confused about what Pigford was, or questioned Ms. Ryan's claim that that it was a litmus test for Obama. In fact, another panelist wholeheartedly agreed with her, and a second panelist began to discuss the issue in some detail before being cut off by the host.
People often talk about "dog whistle politics," but rest assured that when Thomas Burrell goes after President Obama in black churches and starts to get media attention for it, the dog whistle is going to be heard loud and clear in Washington.
With the 2012 presidential election now underway, we will be focusing in the coming months on Barack Obama’s long-standing, extensive, and direct connections to the Pigford settlement. Stay tuned.