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Black farmers tell stories of USDA officialsespecially local loan authorities

in all-white county committees in the Southspitting on them, throwing their

loan applications in the trash and illegally denying them loans.

This happened for decades, through at least the 1990s.



The Real Story of Racism at the USDA

Chris Kromm


Right now, if you do a web search of the words "racism" and "USDA," the majority of links will steer you to coverage of this week's Shirley Sherrod affair, in which the African-American U.S. Department of Agriculture staffer based in Georgia resigned after a conservative website reversed the meaning of a speech she gave last year to imply she would deny farm loans to whites.

It's an astonishing development given the history of race relations at the USDA, an agency whose own Commission on Small Farms admitted in 1998 that "the history of discrimination at the U.S. Department of Agriculture . . . is well-documented"not against white farmers, but African-American, Native American, and other minorities who were pushed off their land by decades of racially-biased laws and practices.

It's also a black eye for President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who signaled a desire to atone for the USDA's checkered past, including pushing for funding of a historic $1.15 billion settlement that would help thousands of African American farmers but now faces bitter resistance from Senate Republicans.

Forced Off the Land

Any discussion about race and the USDA has to start with the crisis of black land loss. Although the U.S. government never followed through on its promise to freed slaves of "40 acres and a mule," African-Americans were able to establish a foothold in Southern agriculture. Black land ownership peaked in 1910, when 218,000 African-American farmers had an ownership stake in 15 million acres of land.

By 1992, those numbers had dwindled to 2.3 million acres held by 18,000 black farmers. And that wasn't just because farming was declining as a way of life: Blacks were being pushed off the land in vastly disproportionate numbers. In 1920, one of out seven U.S. farms were black-run
; by 1992, African-Americans operated one out of 100 farms.

The USDA isn't to blame for all of that decline, but the agency created by President Lincoln in 1862 as the "people's department" did little to stem the tide
and in many cases, made the situation worse.

After decades of criticism and an upsurge in activism by African-American farmers, the USDA hosted a series of "listening sessions" in the 1990s, which added to a growing body of evidence of systematic discrimination:

Black farmers tell stories of USDA officialsespecially local loan authorities in all-white county committees in the Southspitting on them, throwing their loan applications in the trash and illegally denying them loans. This happened for decades, through at least the 1990s. When the USDA's local offices did approve loans to Black farmers, they were often supervised (farmers couldn't spend the borrowed money without receiving item-by-item authorization from the USDA) or late (and in farming, timing is everything). Meanwhile, white farmers were receiving unsupervised, on-time loans. Many say egregious discrimination by local loan officials persists today.

Among those concluding that such racial bias persisted were the USDA's own researchers: In the mid-1990s, they released a report [pdf] which, analyzing data from 1990 to 1995, found "minorities received less than their fair share of USDA money for crop payments, disaster payments, and loans."

Adding insult to injury, when African-American and other minority farmers filed complaints, the USDA did little to address them. In 1983, President Reagan pushed through budget cuts that eliminated the USDA Office of Civil Rights
and officials admitted they "simply threw discrimination complaints in the trash without ever responding to or investigating them" until 1996, when the office re-opened. Even when there were findings of discrimination, they often went unpaidand those that did often came too late, since the farm had already been foreclosed.

In 1997, a USDA Civil Rights Team found the agency's system for handling civil rights complaints was still in shambles [pdf]: the agency was disorganized, the process for handling complaints about program benefits was "a failure," and the process for handling employment discrimination claims was "untimely and unresponsive."

A follow-up report [pdf] by the GAO in 1999 found 44 percent of program discrimination cases, and 64 percent of employment discrimination cases, had been backclogged for over a year.

Taking USDA Discrimination to Court

It was against this backdrop that in 1997, a group of black farmers led by Tim Pigford of North Carolina filed a class action lawsuit against the USDA. In all 22,000 farmers were granted access to the lawsuit, and in 1999 the government admitted wrongdoing and agreed to a $2.3 billion settlement
the largest civil rights settlement in history.

But African-American farmers had misgivings with the Pigford settlement. For one, only farmers discriminated against between 1981 and 1996 could join the lawsuit. Second, the settlement forced farmers to take one of two options: Track A, to receive an immediate $50,000 cash payout, or Track B, the promise of a larger amount if more extensive documentation was provided
a challenge given that many farmers didn't keep records.

Many farmers who joined the lawsuit were also denied payment: By one estimate, nine out of 10 farmers who sought restitution under Pigford were denied. The Bush Department of Justice spent 56,000 office hours and $12 million contesting farmers' claims; many farmers feel their cases were dismissed on technicalities.

The Politics behind the Sherrod Affair

Shortly after coming into office, President Obama and his chief at the Department of Agriculture, Iowa's Tom Vilsack, signaled a change in direction at USDA. Vilsack declared "A New Civil Rights Era at USDA," and stepped-up handling of civil rights claims in the agency.

This year, Vilsack and the USDA also responded to concerns over handling of the Pigford case, agreeing to a historic second settlement
known as Pigford IIin April that would deliver another $1.25 billion to farmers who were excluded from the first case. As Vilsack declared:

We have worked hard to address USDA's checkered past so we can get to the business of helping farmers succeed. The agreement reached today is an important milestone in putting these discriminatory claims behind us for good.

But the Pigford II case was very much still alive when right-wing media outlets went after Shirley Sherrod this week. Sherrod herself had received $150,000 from the USDA last year as part of the original Pigford lawsuit, which has been bitterly opposed by Republicans and conservative media.

The settlement is also now a major political battle in Congress: President Obama had put aside $1.15 billion in May to cover Pigford II cases, which the House later approved. But Republicans stripped the money out of their bills, leaving the supplemental spending now being debated in the Senate as the final option to appropriate the funding.

Given the stakes of the Pigford II decision
which again affirms the present-day consequences of decades of racial discriminationand the sharp partisan battle over spending in Congress, black farmer advocates don't think the attacks on Sherrod this week are a coincidence.

And given the history of racial discrimination at USDA, they can't help but note the hypocrisy. As Gary Grant, president of the 20,000-strong Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association, said in a statement [pdf]:

The statement from Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, that USDA does not "tolerate" racial discrimination is a complete lie. Talk to almost any family member of a black farmer or check out . . . the government's documentation of how USDA employees, on the local and federal level discriminated against black farmers, in particular. And nothing was ever done to penalize the all white officials bent on destroying a society of black farmers across the nation: not one firing, not one charge brought, and not one pension lost. Yet at the first erroneous offering by a conservative blogger that a black woman from USDA might have discriminated, she is immediately forced to resign.

Which begs the question: Where was the Republican and conservative concern over USDA "racism" before this week's swiftboating of Shirley Sherrod?

Source: Southern Studies

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Unedited video supports Sherrod’s claim she wasn't racistThe full, uncut video of a federal agricultural official's NAACP speech purporting racial scheming, told a different story than the barely-three-minute snippet that cost her her job. Despite admitting in the edited version of the taping that she once withheld help to the couple on the basis of race, Shirley Sherrod was defended Tuesday by the wife of a white Georgia farmer. Sherrod, "kept us out of bankruptcy," said Eloise Spooner, 82, of Iron City in southwest Georgia. Spooner, in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, added she considers Sherrod a "friend for life." She and her husband, Roger Spooner, approached Sherrod for help in 1986 when Sherrod worked for a nonprofit that assisted farmers. Sherrod, who is African-American, was asked to resign Monday night by a USDA official after videotaped comments she made in March at a local NAACP banquet surfaced on the Web Atlanta Journal / NAACP / Politico / Politico 2

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'The Rachel Maddow Show' or Wednesday, July 21st, 2010 (Transcript)

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The Tactical Life of Booker T. Washington—Washington received a package from Thomas Dixon Jr., a controversial Baptist minister in Virginia. It contained an advance copy of his first novel, The Leopard's Spots. He wrote, "I hope that you will enjoy it, and if you can find time to say a word in review I will appreciate it very much." 

This was a strange offering, for the novel is a classic specimen of race-baiting. In its Reconstruction-era setting, defeated North Carolina whites endure marauding bands of Negroes armed to the teeth terrorizing the country, stealing, burning, and murdering. Dixon has conniving scalawags wrest power from honorable secessionists, while ignorant "darkies" swill whiskey and seize white women. At the end of the book, the hero declaims in a rousing stump speech, "Shall the future North Carolinian be an Anglo-Saxon or a Mulatto?" The answer: "This is a white man's government . . . and by the God of our fathers it shall be ruled by white men until the archangel shall call the end of time!"

Washington ignored Dixon's plea, but the book became a best seller and Dixon helped foment a surge of Negrophobia through the South. Another novel, The Clansman (1906), dedicated to Dixon's uncle, a founding member of the original Ku Klux Klan, was a national sensation, and later recast as D.W. Griffith's blockbuster Birth of a Nation, whose release in 1915 inspired a revival of the Klan in a lurid midnight ceremony atop Stone Mountain. But Dixon didn't forget Washington's slight. In 1905, he wrote a Saturday Evening Post article accusing Washington of "silently preparing us for the future of amalgamation" -- "amalgamation" signifying the fusion of races into a population of mixed-blood citizens. A third novel on Reconstruction he planned to call The Fall of Tuskegee. Once, he offered the institute $10,000 if Washington declared himself opposed to social equality, and several times he challenged him to public debate on race relations. Washington avoided him.—Skidmore

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Roots of the Southern strategy  / Negrophobia: The Republican strategy for winning future elections

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Negrophobia—blanqueamiento, mestizaje, moreno, indio, de color—Negrophobia is an intense and profound fear of black people and of blackness. It is the companion to the ideology of blanqueamiento, or whitening intergenerationally through reproductive and acculturating practices denominated mestizaje, which is at the core of Latin American and Caribbean racial systems. Because of this, Negrophobia has generally assumed paradoxical forms. On the one hand, blackness is a stigmatized socioracial status, and blacks are subjected to racist stereotyping. On the other hand, race mixture is implicitly encouraged in the service of blanqueamiento. Thus, there is often a dissonance between negrophobic ideology and actual reproductive practices.—JRank

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How the GOP Became the White Man’s Party  /  The Southern Strategy Comes of Age

Steele Admits "Southern Strategy" / Rachel Maddow—Steele admits GOP southern strategy

The Southern Strategy /  Nixon's Southern Strategy

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Nation: Politics: A Northern-Southern Strategy—But Nixon obviously does not want any kind of real break with Thurmond or with large areas of the South. Calling an impromptu press conference, he said that he preferred "cooperation rather than coercion" and thus had no plans to send "vigilante squads" into the South. Vice President Agnew said that there is "no shift to the left" under way in the Administration. The Internal Revenue Service quickly approved the tax-exemption applications of six Southern academies on their mere statements that their classes were open to all races. Strom started smiling again. He said soothingly that Nixon "understands the South far better than some of his aides and underlings."

But the Administration's policies on racial issues are still under fire. The National Urban League's Executive Director Whitney M. Young Jr. said at his group's annual convention that he did not think the Administration was antiblack; that there are "contending forces" within it; and that he sees "some signs that elements are moving forward to bring about change" on racial matters.Time

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Although the phrase "Southern strategy" is often attributed to Nixon political strategist Kevin Phillips, he did not originate it,[1] but merely popularized it.[2] In an interview included in a 1970 New York Times article, he touched on its essence:

From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that... but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.[3]

While Phillips sought to polarize ethnic voting in general, and not just to win the white South, the South was by far the biggest prize yielded by his approach. Its success began at the presidential level, gradually trickling down to statewide offices, the Senate and House, as some legacy segregationist Democrats retired or switched to the GOP.Wikipedia

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Shirley Sherrod (Center) with Charles Sherrod, RDLN Board Member The Honorable Dr. Unita Blackwell (l), RDLN Graduate Cynthia Ellis of Belize, Central America (2nd from right), and RDLN President Starry Krueger at the Charles Sherrod Civil Rights Park in Albany, Georgia during RDLN's National Network Assembly in 2006.

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Shirley Sherrod named Georgia Director of Rural Development

With Apology, Fired Official Is Offered a New Job

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Sherrod to Obama: Give Me a Call  / Transcript of Robert Gibbs on Shirley Sherrod (21 July 2010)

Sherrod says she'd love to talk race with Obama / Sherrod defends Her Record

Shirley Sherrod Defends Her Comments  /  Shirley Sherrod shaped by father's slaying

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 Shirley Sherrod is a Class Act!

Shirley Sherrod discusses closing the chapter on her current ordeal with Anderson Cooper on CNN. Whatever you decide Mrs. Sherrod you are a true hero.

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Shirley Sherrod (born 1948 in Baker County, Georgia), an African American employee of the United States Department of Agriculture and USDA director of Rural Development in Georgia, was controversially forced to resign after a video (from 27 March 2010) surfaced on the Internet (on 19 July 2010) showing her describing her past racist attitudes in the context of a white farmer who sought her help after his farm was about to be foreclosed upon. The full version of the video, which provided some additional context for Sherrod's remarks, surfaced soon after. The event re-ignited a debate regarding racism in the United States and about the decisions made by the administration of Barack Obama. Sherrod has since received an apology from the administration, and has been offered another job with the Department of Agriculture, which she has not yet decided she will accept.Wikipedia

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Obama needs to stand up to 'reverse racism' ploy— The Sherrod case has fully exposed the right-wing campaign to use racial fear to destroy Obama's presidency, and I hope the effect is to finally stiffen some spines in the administration. The way to deal with bullies is to confront them, not run away. Yet Sherrod was fired before even being allowed to tell her side of the story. She said the official who carried out the execution explained that she had to resign immediately because the story was going to be on Glenn Beck's show that evening. Ironically, Beck was the only Fox host who, upon hearing the rest of Sherrod's speech, promptly called for her to be reinstated. On Wednesday, Vilsack offered to rehire her.

Shirley Sherrod stuck to her principles and stood her ground. I hope the White House learns a lesson.— WashingtonPost

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Obama apologizes to ousted USDA worker—Flooded with apologies from everywhere, Shirley Sherrod got the biggest "I'm sorry" of all Thursday—from a contrite President Obama, who personally appealed to the ousted worker to come back. . . . Sherrod said she hadn't decided whether she would accept the invitation to come back, but she did accept the apologies.—SFGate

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On Lacking All ConvictionTa-Nehisi Coates —Andrew Breitbart says that Sherrod's speech, not the Tea Party's rhetoric, is the real racism. It is an argument that is as old as American white supremacy, and one that this administration, through its actions over the past week, has tacitly endorsed.

The argument has been made that this isn't Obama, just the people working under him. That theory elides the responsibility of leaders to set a tone. The tone that Obama has set, in regards to race, is to retreat with great velocity in the face of anything that can be defined as "racial." Granted, this has been politically smart. Also granted, Obama has done it with nuance. But it can not be expected that the president's subordinates will share that nuance.

More disturbingly, this is what happens when you treat the arrest of a black man, in his home, as something that can be fixed over beers. This is what happens when you silently assent to the notion that racism and its victims are somehow equally wrong. The ground, itself, is rigged with a narrative of inversion that goes back centuries. When you treat the two sides as equals, expect not just more of the same. Expect worse.—The Atlantic

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Nathan Hare I just heard Shirley Sherrod say on CNN that she thinks what Andrew Breitbart had in mind when he played the racial card—and she agreed that he is "a racist" when the showhost asked her point blank if she thought he was a racist" and she went on to volunteer that she thought "he'd really like to get black people back into slavery"— was after was not the NAACP, or even her, but "a black president."

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Unacquiring Negrophobia Younghill Kang and the Cosmopolitan Resistance

to the Black and White Logic of Naturalization

By Stephen Knadler, Spelman College, Atlanta GA

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Shirley Sherrod To Obama: Come To Georgia, See How 'Regular Folks' LiveShe's not so sure about returning to government work but would like to talk more with Obama about promoting togetherness across the country."I don't want to be the fall guy, the fall girl, for discrimination in the Department of Agriculture," Sherrod told The Associated Press at her southern Georgia home. "I need a little down time to reflect on what's happened the last few days. Is there another place for me to help all of us take advantage of what has happened over the last few days? I don't know yet."

For his part, Obama has ordered a more patient, deliberative style of governance from his aides and Cabinet members after the convulsive week surrounding Sherrod's ouster. Sherrod, 62, said she'd like to persuade Obama to visit south Georgia. "I need to get him down here with some regular folks to see how they live and how they get along," Sherrod said. "It might give him a better understanding on how to promote togetherness in this country."HuffingtonPost

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Shirley Sherrod long a thorn in Ag Dept.'s side—By Willie Brown—San Francisco Chronicle July 25, 2010As an old pro, though, I know that you don't fire someone without at least hearing their side of the story unless you want them gone in the first place. This woman has been a thorn in the side of the Agriculture Department for years. She was part of a class-action lawsuit against the department on behalf of black farmers in the South. For years, she has been operating a community activist organization not unlike ACORN.

I think there were those in the Agriculture Department who objected to her being hired in the first place. Plus there was the politics. If you are running for election in south Georgia, you don't want to have to explain someone like Sherrod. But I have to add that the overreaction of the White House once again underscores Obama's own problem with race. This president has carefully crafted his image, and it hinges on his not being seen as a Jesse Jackson or an Al Sharpton, as a flack for the NAACP or the Urban League.

In other words, he does not want to be seen as a "black" president. He wants to be seen as a president who happens to be black. That mind-set permeates his administration. Anytime there's an issue that is clearly "black," the Obama people do not want to be associated with it in any fashion. We saw it first in his distancing himself from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and to a lesser extent in the dust-up between police and Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates. And now this.

Obama has come in for considerable criticism from a number of respectable and important black people. He has a Latino issues adviser. He has an adviser on gay rights. He has an adviser on senior issues, on labor—but there is no African American issues adviser. There has been no big black cultural celebration at the White House. There's only one black in his cabinet. Even George W. Bush had more blacks in positions of power than Obama. Frankly, I think some of the sniping is unfair. Obama really is trying his best to elevate the racial climate and bring this country into the 21st century—but there's a lot of mid-20th century left in America.—SFGate

posted 23 July 2010 

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The Courage to Hope

How I Stood Up to the Politics of Fear  

By Shirley Sherrod

Sherrod sets the record straight on her forced resignation from the Department of Agriculture in 2010. The author. . .was director for the USDA's Rural Development in Georgia when conservative political blogger Andrew Breitbart attacked her for allegedly reverse racist comments she made at an NAACP event. The threat of exposure on national TV was enough to send the USDA running for cover, and she was dismissed. Sherrod decided she had to fight back. She and her husband have been directly involved in the struggles for political and economic justice in Georgia and elsewhere since the 1960s, and they were part of Martin Luther King's movement for civil rights. She writes about growing up in segregated Georgia and the circumstances surrounding her father’s murder and the arson of her family home—at that time, “fear was the daily diet that kept the status quo alive.” In the ’70s, Sherrod and her husband worked with other farmers in Georgia on experimental projects. Denied drought assistance funds by the USDA, they faced foreclosure and joined a class-action suit to redress the discrimination.

Eventually, they won the settlement, a decision strongly opposed by conservatives. Sherrod writes sharply about the continuing legacy of racism and how economic policy, hidebound bureaucracy and plain malice affect poor people everywhere, and why pretending that we are in a post-racial world doesn’t help anyone. An inspiring memoir about the real power of courage and hope.

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.

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Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All

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Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock  market. True wealth has more to do with what's in your heart than what's in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America's shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, "Happy can make you money, but money can't make you happy."

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Here is the remarkable true story of the real Count of Monte Cristo—a stunning feat of historical sleuthing that brings to life the forgotten hero who inspired such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. The real-life protagonist of The Black Count, General Alex Dumas, is a man almost unknown today yet with a story that is strikingly familiar, because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used it to create some of the best loved heroes of literature. Yet, hidden behind these swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: the real hero was the son of a black slave—who rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time. Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy.

Enlisting as a private, he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution, in an audacious campaign across Europe and the Middle East—until he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.

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The White Masters of the World

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Related files:  Dont Get Snookered by Obama  The Return of the Nigger Breaker  Washington Must Pay What It Owes Black Farmers