Black farmers discriminated against by government deserve agreed-upon settlement
New York City – For decades, Black farmers dealt with devastating discrimination from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Because of it, many lost their land. Others simply failed to prosper, denied the help the government gave white farmers much more easily and much more freely.
These facts are not in dispute. In 1997, a case against the federal government brought by about 400 Black farmers, Pigford v. Glickman, was settled out of court. Under its terms, 13,000 Black farmers, about 3,000 of them from South Carolina, received $50,000 each and some debt relief.
Later, after the USDA admitted that thousands more complaints from Black farmers had gone uninvestigated in the 1990s, Pigford II was created to compensate them.
Earlier this year, the Department of Justice released a statement in which Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack agreed that a resolution to Pigford II had been reached, contingent on the appropriation of funds by Congress.
“Following the appropriation, class members may pursue their individual claims through a non-judicial claims process in front of a neutral arbitrator,” the Justice Department statement said.
Participants in the suit are supposed to be entitled to up to $50,000 and debt relief. Some could receive as much as $250,000 through a more rigorous process that will set actual damages in the cases. But the statement goes on to say, “The actual value of the awards may be reduced based on the total amount of funds made available and the number of successful claims.”
And since Congress has failed to make even a penny available to pay the claims, the current effective level of the claims is zero.
In July, the House approved a war supplemental funding bill that included $1.25 billion to pay for the settlement. The Senate has not followed suit and, according to National Black Farmers Association head John Boyd, has failed to approve the funds in seven separate votes. The funding was most notably stripped out of a recent farm aid disaster bill.
The situation is quickly becoming a national disgrace.
Black farmers frequently faced devastating discrimination from the federal government as they tried to scratch out a living on their land. Not even the federal government denies this.
They were denied loans that their white counterparts received. They were denied assistance that their white counterparts received. Time after time, the USDA failed in its mission to help these Black farmers, and when the Black farmers made formal complaints, those too were ignored.
On Tuesday, Boyd, the National Black Farmers Association head, showed up in front of a federal courthouse in Manhattan riding a mule, an attempt to remind people of the broken post-Civil War promise of “40 acres and a mule” to freed slaves that never materialized. It was a theatrical gesture, but a powerful one.
These farmers were discriminated against. It cost them dearly, and it took the government years to admit it. The Senate needs to appropriate the funds for Pigford II, lest the shame grow even deeper.
President Obama reaffirms support for Black farmers, urges Congress to fund discrimination settlement
Washington, D.C. – At his White House press conference Friday, Sept. 10, President Obama reaffirmed his support for Black farmers who suffered decades of discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and called on Congress to finally fund the long delayed settlement agreement.
Obama said, “It is a fair settlement. It is a just settlement. We think it’s important for Congress to fund that settlement. We’re going to continue to make it a priority.”
Twice the House of Representatives has passed a measure to pay for this settlement, yet the legislation languishes in the Senate, having failed no less than seven times.
John Boyd, founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association, has become a leading voice for tens of thousands of active Black farmers as well as those who were forced from the profession as a result of discrimination by the USDA.
“Black farmers across the nation applaud President Obama’s statement and hope that it will bring us closer to justice. We are asking the Senate to act immediately to fund this settlement, with definitive action attached to any legislative vehicle that leaves the chamber headed to the president’s desk. As the president indicated, the time for political games has ended. People are dying. The time to act is now.”
On Feb. 7, 2010, the New York Times editorial told the government to “Pay Up” on the “historic injustice” involving the Black farmers. And on Sept. 3, 2010, the Washington Post editorial said, “The White House and Congress should work diligently” to fund the Black farmers settlement.
Black farmers call on U.S. Senate to fund settlement
by CNN Wire Staff