His audience was a majority Black one and it wouldn’t be surprising if his remarks may have been viewed with skepticism. Vilsack admitted up front the USDA’s history in the area of civil rights was one that has to be improved upon.
Many are waiting for payments from the Pigford II lawsuit brought against the USDA by Black farmers. Some have been waiting years for their payments. In his remarks Tuesday, Dec. 7 to an audience at the Tuskegee University Chapel, Vilsack mentioned the Claims Settlement Act agreement by Congress last week that should speed up the lagging payment process.
One has to remember that Vilsack’s comments and promise came in the same county where the United States Department of Public Health conducted the infamous Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male — the Tuskegee Syphilis Study — where from 1932-72 many men in Macon County were misled to believe they were receiving treatment for syphilis as the government studied the disease’s effects.
The Study is one of the blackest eyes in U.S. history. It is also a major reason many Blacks don’t trust the federal government when it comes to medical care. The same holds true for treatment from the USDA.
But Vilsack seemed to offer hope that what he says can be taken to the bank as the truth.
In the two years Vilsack has served in his capacity on President Barack Obama’s cabinet, many initiatives have been taken to address the needs of the nation’s farmers. Those initiatives have targeted to improve the plight of minorities and those considered disadvantaged.
It’s not all about settlements. Vilsack talked of programs to make farming more viable. He spoke of improving schools, hospitals, infrastructure and communication in rural communities so opportunities for the disadvantaged would be improved.
It wasn’t so much what Vilsack said — which was impressive enough. It was the passion with which he made his points. That has to give people who will be most impacted a sense of hope.
There hasn’t always been that hope for the audience Vilsack addressed. Hope exhibited through programs and initiatives is where the rubber meets the road.
It appears Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture understands the importance of making his word his bond on behalf of the USDA, where more times than not that hasn’t been the case.