I sat in a coffee shop across the street from the White House so that I could return some emails before going to witness the signing of the Claims Settlement Act of 2010. The Act, which will guarantee long denied federal resources to black and Native American farmers to the tune of $4.6 billion.
As I sat there, in walked ten or so black men, all impeccably dressed and most crowned with cowboy hats. “It’s the black farmers”, I stated to a friend sitting next to me like I had just seen a superhero. And as they walked out of the shop, headed over to the White House, I realized that they really are the heroes of this chapter in American history. The signing ceremony reaffirmed that fact at every step.
Yesterday, as members of Congress, Civil Rights leaders and activists, and tribal leaders crowded into the press room in the Old Executive Building of the White House, there was a sense of celebration. In many ways this signing was a ray of light in what has been a dark season of midterm losses and in-party fighting over the president’s latest move to bargain over tax cuts. The room was filled with a sense of promise and commitment. Ben Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP stated, “today is proof that organizing works and that when we commit, we win.
WATCH PRESIDENT OBAMA SIGN THE CLAIMS RESOLUTION ACT HERE
Eric Holder, US Attorney General was so excited that he actually slapped five with one of the senators that lined the stage as the president spoke to the audience. “This would not have gotten done without activist, tribal leaders, and members of Congress”, he stated before he spoke to the history that both black and Native American farmers have been forced to endure. President Obama went on to say that he would do everything in his power to “restore their trust” in the federal government. After signing the bill he rose from his seat and said simply, “It’s done”.
And even as many in the room thanked the president for his roll in introducing the bill as a U.S. Senator, he backed from the credit, shaking hands of the activists and tribal leaders stating, “I introduced it, but you (they) had to carry it”. But all in the room who had reallt sacrificed and struggled knew that a true hero’s work isn’t done until all they serve have what they need.
Dr. John Boyd, head of the National Black Farmers Association talked to me as he was leaving the event with the same resolve that got them there. “We have to head out throughout the south and show them (farmers) how to take part in this settlement. So many farmers have died in the last 12 years, I am sorry it has taken this long. The president did his job, now we have to do ours”.