Editor’s note: This is the second half of a story on Bob J. Nash, who was born on a Texarkana, Ark., farm in 1947. Part 1, “Bob J. Nash – From Farm to Bill Clinton’s White House,” ran Monday, Oct. 31.
Many things have changed for Bob J. Nash since he was growing up in an Arkansas farm family in the mid-1900s. Some of those things are good.
For example, when he was young, African-Americans “couldn’t go to the whites’ hospital, unless we were in a wreck,” he recalled. “Later, we started getting rural health clinics. They’re now an important part of medical care for rural farmers.”
Other developments, however, have not been so good, Nash noted. “In the 1920s, black farmers owned 20 million acres of farmland in the South. Today, African-Americans own only 4 million acres of farmland in the South.”
And although the end of the Civil War also meant the end of slavery, not everyone of black descent benefited equally, Nash explained. “Some blacks got their ’40 acres and a mule.’ But in many more cases, the half-white kids of plantation owners got the land.”
A sad irony
Though suddenly free, most former slaves couldn’t afford to buy farmland. And the Department of Agriculture, which President Abraham Lincoln had created in 1862, discriminated against them by denying loans and access to beneficial programs such as emergency and disaster assistance, Nash noted.
A federal class-action lawsuit settled in 1999, Pigford vs. Glickman, confirmed that discrimination against African-American farmers continued even as late as the 1990s. Under the settlement, the U.S. government paid almost $1 billion to more than 13,000 black farmers.
In 2010, the U.S. Congress approved an additional $1.2 billion in payments to 70,000 other black farmers who were not part of the original Pigford lawsuit.
Bob J. Nash and his Washington career
As undersecretary of agriculture for rural and community development under President Bill Clinton, from 1993 until ’95, Nash oversaw an $8 billion annual budget. The 12,000 employees in his branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture dealt with loans and grants — to cities, counties and states, as well as to nonprofit agencies — for rural development projects such as water, sewer and electric utilities, and for telephone and broadband services.
“We did things for people in rural areas that they needed,” he said.
From April 1995 through the rest of Clinton’s administration, which ended Jan. 20, 2001, Nash served as director of presidential personnel for the White House.
“I’ve been involved in politics since 1965. I’ve been a Democrat — most of the time,” he said.
Wife is 1 of 19 children
His wife, Janis Kearney, 63, was born in Gould, Ark., one of 19 children, to cotton sharecroppers. Bob Nash explained, “Back then, sharecroppers had to have a big family to make sure they had enough people to work the farm.”
In 1995, Bill Clinton appointed Janis as his personal diarist. Her father, Thomas James “T.J.” Kearney, lived to 107. He died in 2014.
Bob Nash said T.J. attributed his longevity to living on the farm, working hard and eating natural foods: “He’d complain, ‘These airplanes (cropdusters) are flying over farms and spraying poison. I didn’t eat that stuff.'”
Today, Nash is president of Bob J. Nash & Associates in Little Rock, Ark. Janis Kearney is an author of several books and the founder of Writing Our World Publishing.
Bob quipped that he and Janis have one habit, dating back to their childhoods, they can’t shake. “We both eat fast. With so many around the table, we had to eat quickly to get something to eat.”