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100 Black Farmers Assail Inaction on Bias Claims in Capital Protest

April 24, 1998| From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — With three tractors and a mule, about 100 black farmers demonstrated outside the Agriculture Department on Thursday to underscore their frustration with the Clinton administration's failure to resolve a backlog of discrimination complaints.

"We are American citizens, just as white citizens are," said Phillip Barker, who traveled from Oxford, N.C., to join the protest. "We deserve respect. When are we going to see some justice?"

Their main target was the Justice Department, which concluded this month that a two-year statute of limitations bars most of the estimated 2,000 complaining farmers from getting cash compensation even if they suffered discrimination in denial of loans and other benefits.

Standing atop a flatbed truck on Independence Avenue, with "Struggle" the mule nearby and the tractors in front, farmer Philip Haynie of Heathsville, Va., compared the battle to the difficult years his great-grandfather faced right after he was freed from slavery.

"We're not dumb. We're not lazy. We are just victims of the system," Haynie said.

But absent congressional action, the Clinton administration cannot simply approve cash settlements for the farmers to plant crops and buy machinery and supplies. The White House and top Justice and Agriculture department officials are working with the Congressional Black Caucus on legislation to waive the statute of limitations for the farmers.

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