Shirley Sherrod and her multi-million dollar settlement from the Dept. of Ag.
Posted July 22, 2010
interested in Ms. Sherrod lawsuit where she was awarded a pot load of tax payer dollars. Here's what I've found so far, about her corporation (New Communities, Inc.)
BIAS BLAMED IN DEMISE OF DREAM - BLACKS SOUGHT TO BUILD FARM COMMUNITY IN GEORGIA THAT WOULD BE INDEPENDENT OF WHITE COMMUNITY
Macon Telegraph, The (GA) - Sunday, November 25, 2001
Author: Allen G. Breed, Associated Press
- Charles Sherrod and his friends had an audacious dream.
In it, the descendants of slaves would live and work on a huge tract of land that they would own in common. They would build a new kind of farm-based community, with its own schools and hospital. They would raise and sell their own meat and produce.
They would be independent from the dominant white farming community -— and equal to it.
Their dream was called New Communities and, for a while, they struggled to live it. during the course of 15 years, the group bought and worked the largest black-owned tract of land in the nation -— 5,700 rolling Georgia acres, crisscrossed by streams and railroad sidings.
But in 1985, it all came crashing down. New Communities had declared bankruptcy. The land and equipment were sold at auction. Much of the farm was turned into subdivision lots.
Then, years later, the U.S. Department of Agriculture made an admission: It acknowledged years of systematic discrimination against black farmers, and began compensating them.
Now, New Communities board members who had met only once or twice a year to reminisce are gathering to discuss their legal claim against the government. Some are even eyeing available farmland, daring to hope that they can rebuild.
Shirley Sherrod, Charles’ wife, never gave up hope.
‘’The dream is still there.’’
A community of equality
The dream was born out of the violence and frustration of the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s, when some blacks in the South felt that if they couldn’t get along with whites, they would get along without them.
But Charles Sherrod , the first field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, knew that successful organizing in the South had to be done multiracially.
Together with whites from his alma mater, New York’s Union Theological Seminary, Sherrod formed the Southwest Georgia Project. Sherrod and others traveled to Israel to study communal living there.
In a 1970 prospectus to a potential donor, Shimon Gottschalk, then a student at Brandeis University, wrote of establishing ‘’a city, genuinely new and politically cogent ... based on a vision of justice, communitarian values, decentralized institutions, planning by its own citizens.’’
He called the model ‘’quite idealistic in the sense of communal ownership, collective ownership for people who never had owned anything.’’
Local whites were shocked when the group, using loans from Northern foundations and church groups, bought two adjacent farms near Albany.
Plans called for three or four villages of 200 families each. The farming operations were to cover 3,000 acres; 20 to 30 acres would become an industrial park; 10 to 20 acres a cultural center. There would be a hospital and an education center, ‘’from day care to college.’’
Then-Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox, the ax-handle-wielding segregationist, dubbed the place ‘’Sharecropper City’’ and its founders ‘’communists.’’ But that’s not how residents of the community saw it.
‘’Well, to tell you the truth, my chest was stuck out as far as it could be stuck out, just to be a part of the idea,’’ says Robert Christian, the group’s treasurer.
But the problems surfaced right away.
Financial problems plague farm
The first year, blight and heavy rains led to gross income of $90,000, barely half of what the previous owner grossed in 1969 -— and less than half the $1.6 million annual debt service on mortgages and other loans.
Maddox vetoed a badly needed state grant for New Communities. By 1974, the community’s board discussed bringing in ‘’outside specialists.’’
Some saw that as a worse threat than the bad weather.
‘’We’ve been ‘calling in specialists’ for over 300 years because we couldn’t do something for ourselves,’’ said the Rev. S.B. Wells.
But Sherrod knew that the farm, if treated as a for-profit business, could not succeed and carry all the other programs.
‘’We knew that the farm alone could not deal with that heavy a mortgage,’’ he says. ‘’We were only farming a third of it. The numbers didn’t add up.’’
At its height, only about a dozen families lived full-time at New Communities. The enterprise always was dependent on volunteer labor, and organizers soon learned how undependable such labor was.
By 1975, the board finally admitted that it needed help, and Sherrod applied to the federal Farmer’s Home Administration for loans. He says a local administrator told him he would get a loan ‘’over my dead body.’’
New Communities didn’t get the first federal dollar until 1979 -— and then only after officials from Washington forced locals to approve the loans, Sherrod says. By then, the group had had to sell off 1,348 acres at a bargain price to reduce debt loads and raise money.
When the government loans did come, Christian says, they were always too little, too late.
‘’You start late, you harvest late and, of course, you’re the last ones to sell,’’ he says. ‘’And the buyers that needed peanuts, they’ve already got their bins full.’’
Sherrod says the government encouraged New Communities to grow water-intensive row crops, but would never lend money for irrigation equipment. Officials denied permission to sell some land for operating money.
When New Communities finally folded in 1985, the FHA was its largest creditor at about $730,000. The group never farmed more than 2,000 of its acres; the hospital and schools never materialized.
USDA admits to discriminatory practices
After the collapse, members moved on to other projects.
Board members met just often enough to retain active corporate status. Then, the USDA made its startling admission in response to a national class-action lawsuit brought by black farmers in 1997.
‘’In several Southeastern states, for instance, it took three times as long on average to process the application of an African-American farmer as it did to process the application of a white farmer,’’ a judge wrote in approving a national consent decree.
Black farmers were given two options. Those with ‘’substantial evidence’’ could drop their claims and walk away with a $50,000 payment for the presumption of discrimination; or they could file a claim for actual damages, try to prove discrimination and risk getting nothing.
Of the more than 21,000 farmers accepted for the fast-track program, just under 13,000 have been approved, with payments totaling more than $1 billion so far. Only about 200 claims for bigger damages were filed, most of them by individual farmers -— about 80 of them still pending.
New Communities’ claim is one of them. Sherrod would not say how much the group is seeking, except to say the land alone was worth $5 million.
The claims are being handled through a closed administrative process, and federal officials did not return calls for comment.
Some say community doomed by many factors
Sherrod is convinced the effort was done in by institutional racism. Others think the story of New Communities’ failure is more complex.
Joe Pfister, another white seminary graduate who lived in Albany for 10 years, remembers many subtle economic tricks played on blacks. But even without racism, he says, the enormous debt ‘’ate up everything they produced.’’
‘’It failed because it was too huge a project,’’ says Pfister, now living in Oxford, N.C.
Sherrod would do a lot of things differently today. For starters, he wouldn’t depend on row crops like soybeans and corn. Maybe catfish or flowers, or even ostrich. Nothing quite as grand as before.
Still, he says the government failed as a safety net.
‘’They never made the loans large enough. They never made loans for what we needed ... to do the best farming that we could do,’’ Sherrod says.
‘’FHA is the cause of our failure. FHA could have saved us.’’
Farmers fight to save black co-op - Land, cash gone, but dream still lives
The Atlanta Journal and The At
lanta Constitution - Wednesday, October 30, 1985
Author: BEASLEY, DAVID, David Beasley Staff Writer: STAFF
LEESBURG, Ga. - It was envisioned as a new form of black power, a way to provide food for the hungry, a payroll for the jobless and a base for minority economic development in southwest Georgia.
But five years of drought and an ever-increasing indebtedness led two months ago to foreclosures against 4,300 acres owned by New Communities Inc., a cooperative of black farmers in Lee County near Albany .
New Communities now has no land or cash, but there are those who are fighting to keep the dream alive.
The Rev. Charles Sherrod, one of the founders of New Communities and now an Albany city commissioner, is trying to raise at least $30,000 as a down payment to repurchase 935 acres of land that formerly belonged to the cooperative.
“We had some grand dreams,” said Sherrod. “We don’t have any land right now, but we have not given these dreams up because not that much has changed in the power structure in this country.”
Sherrod, then a young civil rights worker in Albany , helped form New Communities in 1968 after visiting similar farm cooperatives in Israel called moshavim.
He saw New Communities as a training ground for black farmers throughout Georgia. It would offer technical assistance to small farmers and become a working example of how to operate a small farm profitably.
Food grown on the farm would be sold directly to the consumer.
“Somebody is always taking the product of the little man and making a mint off of it,” said Sherrod. “This was our attempt to combat that phenomenon.”
The dream was so strong that Stanley Harden came all the way from San Francisco to become a part of it 15 years ago.
Harden, who had been distributing surplus food to low income families in San Francisco, believed the cooperative could spawn a new kind of black political and economic clout.
Harden, Sherrod and other civil rights workers were able to develop New Communities into one of the largest black farm cooperatives in the nation, a 6,000-acre operation that produced a wide variety of crops, including watermelons, sweet potatoes, peas and grapes.
Efforts to sell directly to the consumer included a roadside store at the farm and shipments to northern food-buying cooperatives.
Although only about six or seven farmers worked the land at any time, from 100 to 150 area blacks worked at New Communities during harvest season.
The cooperative sponsored a day-care center for its workers and there were unsuccessful attempts to obtain grants to build low-income housing on the farm . Experts were brought in to hold seminars for small farmers in the area.
“I felt like I had more of a part in it than I would have had in a regular job,” said Maria Youngblood, who worked at the cooperative store for two years in the 1970s.
But in order to buy the land, New Communities had to borrow more than $1 million. Despite having sold more than 1,000 acres to decrease the debt load in 1976, it was difficult to meet the payments even in the good years. Farmers were paid living expenses and little more.
Drought in the late 1970s and early 1980s made an already difficult financial situation disastrous. In November 1984, the cooperative filed for bankruptcy. Two months ago, the remaining 4,300 acres were sold on the Lee County Courthouse steps to satisy $1.8 million in debt to several lenders, including Prudential Life Insurance Co. and the Farmers Home Administration.
Sherrod has not yet found a source for the down payment to launch a new beginning for New Communities . But he is not giving up hope.
S. Georgia farmers tire of wait for loans - Consultant accused of taking fees, giving no help in return
The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution - Saturday, June 21, 1986
Author: BEASLEY, DAVID, David Beasley Staff Writer: STAFF
William Simmons of Americus is subject of preliminary investigation after allegations he bilked South Georgia farmers of money in fraudulent loan scheme.
Plagued by dry weather and low crop prices, Oscar Bembry, a 65-year-old Pulaski County farmer, hasn’t shown a profit in nine years.
Half a million dollars in debt to the Farmers Home Administration and facing the possibility of foreclosure, Bembry listened intently last November as William Simmons of Americus talked about a new source of 7 percent refinancing from “oilmen” in New York.
During meetings last November and February between Simmons and some 50 black f armers at Vienna High School in Dooly County, Bembry forked over a total of $400 to Simmons as a fee for processing his loan applications.
But when planting time arrived this spring, the loan money hadn’t materialized. It still hasn’t.
Bembry is one of at least 10 South Georgia farmers who are complaining that Simmons never delivered on his promise to help refinance their debts, despite the fact that he was paid hundreds of dollars for his assistance in obtaining the loans.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation last week began looking into the complaints, according to Dale Kirkland, an agent in the GBI’s Americus office. Kirkland, however, said agents have not had time to determine whether a full-scale invesigation is warranted.
A representative from the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs met last month with about 10 farmers who had dealings with Simmons.
“We’re aware of the situation, but that’s about all I can say,” said John Smith, that agency’s director of case administration.
Complaints about Simmons go back as far as two years.
New Communities Inc., a cooperative of black farmers in Lee County, paid Simmons and some associates $200 to help obtain more than $1 million in loans, said Albany City Councilman Charles Sherrod, one of the leaders in the cooperative.
But New Communities never got the loan or its $200 back and lost its land to foreclosure last year, said Sherrod.
Macon County farmer Charlie Fred Lee also attended the meeting at Vienna High School last November and said he paid Simmons $200 to help process an application for a $900,000 loan - $600,000 to refinance existing debt and $300,000 for operating expenses.
Lee failed to attend the second meeting at Vienna High but said Simmons later stopped by his house seeking an additional $100. Lee turned him down.
“I didn’t believe it by then,” said Lee. He hasn’t seen Simmons since. And he has received no loan.
“He disappeared and never came back,” said Lee, who only had enough operating money this year to plant 360 acres compared to 1,200 in previous years.
But in a telephone interview Friday, Simmons seemed surprised that farmers wer e unhappy with him.
He said it often takes months before loan applications are completed and approved.
“Right now, we’re still processing that loan,” he said of Bembry’s application. “The loan completion isn’t there right now but we’re looking forward to it working out very shortly.”
Simmons said his private, for-profit financial consulting firm, United Agri Efforts, locates financing for farmers through private investors whom he would not name.