Black Farmers In America Dismayed By Lawsuit Against White Farmers Interrupting Relief Payments | US News
TThe US Department of Agriculture was due to start sending payments to black and minority farmers this month, as part of a $ 4 billion loan forgiveness program included in the coronavirus relief bill. $ 1.9 billion that was passed by Congress in March.
But a lawsuit on behalf of white farmers accusing the Biden administration of discrimination has, at least temporarily, halted the controls, causing dismay among black farmers and activists.
The money, intended to remedy more than 100 years of discriminatory practices and policies that have historically and disproportionately disadvantaged black farmland owners, is now frozen due to an injunction granted this month by a federal judge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
USDA says it will “defend with forceâPayments and is fighting against them with the Department of Justice. Across the country, there are other lawsuits against black farmer and minority debt relief with allegations of discrimination against white farmers, including one in Texas backed by former Trump adviser Stephen Miller.
Farming in black, according to Rodney Bradshaw, never gets easier. “My feeling before [the injunction] was that we finally get some justice that was owed to us after the Pigford deal [a discrimination settlement in the late 1990s]. Now is that the promises made to black farmers are still on hold, âsays Bradshaw, of Jetmore, Kansas.
He is a descendant of black settlers with more than 100 years of farming heritage in Kansas, but that heritage is more threatened than ever today, he says, because of the racism that has been allowed to run rampant and in some cases , has been historically supported by the USDA.
Black farmers peaked in number in 1920 when they numbered 949,889; today there are only 48,697; they make up just 1.4% of the country’s 3.4 million farmers (95% of American farmers are white) and own 0.52% of American farmland.
Part of the reason was the displacement of black farmers due to New Deal legislation, the purpose of which was to help farmers by paying them to reduce agricultural production, thus forcing food prices to rise. But white farmers used the money to buy mechanical farm equipment and drove out black sharecroppers whose labor was no longer needed due to declining production.
The deprivation of the right to vote did not end there. In 1965, the United States Civil Rights Commission found that the USDA discriminated against black farmers when granting financial aid payments and loans. In 1999, the Clinton administration admitted that USDA lending practices were discriminatory, in what is now known as the Pigford Settlement.
The Pigford settlement was named after black farmer Timothy Pigford of North Carolina, who was the principal plaintiff in a successful 1997 class action lawsuit – still the largest civil rights settlement ever won against the federal government. It was supposed to pay a little over $ 1 billion to black farmers, but less than 16,000 payments were received, even though more than 22,000 claims were filed.
Tens of thousands of claims have also been denied due to late filings, which black farmers and their legal representatives attribute to USDA’s mismanagement of deadline communication.
“Black farmers need capital”
Tracy Lloyd McCurty’s goal is to end the discrimination that runs deep in the American agriculture industry. She is the executive director of the Black Belt Justice Center, which works to improve what it calls restorative land justice through a community-controlled land and finance cooperative known as the Black Agrarian Fund.
She believes the USDA has already engaged in deliberate obstructionism and said in a statement to the Guardian that the Pigford settlement has had dire consequences by preventing black families from keeping their farmland.
She wants more debt canceled. âAccording to USDA data, only 2,000 of the 17,000 farmers of color receiving direct loans with USDA are black / African American and less than 5% of all black farmers will benefit from debt cancellation. We have been grappling with these devastating numbers and the theft of black farmland by the USDA in the Pigford lawsuit, âMcCurty said.
Of the recent injunction, she said: âA colleague reminded us, ‘It will always be deliberate speed if it’s in the hour of white supremacy. “
Brennan Washington and his wife own Phoenix Gardens, which they use to teach and train other farmers to grow sustainable products. A native of New York, he is also a 1890 Liaison officer for land grants and Southeast Outreach Coordinator for South of Sare, a decentralized competitive grants and education program across the United States.
Washington speaks regularly with black farmers and recently had conversations as part of a partnership with Tuskegee University to gain information on the effects of Covid-19 in the black farming community.
âThe most important thing that came up was that black farmers needed access to capital,â he says. âAnd there’s a little bit of resentment, because people go to black farmers and ask them what do they need, what do they needâ¦ It’s been going on for years. Their position is this: We have already told you what we need. We need funding, we need equity in the programs that are put in place for agriculture. “
Another need which may seem new but which relates to a historical problem is that of the means of communication. Washington said many black farmers were unhappy with the way the Trump administration’s tariff payments were rolled out. âAnd that leads to another thing you hear about: access to broadband technology in some of these communities. The USDA is increasingly relying on the use of this vehicle as a means of disseminating information, forgetting that many people just don’t have access to it.
He also believes that part of the problem with funding inequalities at USDA is due to resistance and discrimination at the county level, where he says many of the department’s programs are administered. âWashington isn’t really the problem,â he said. âIt’s really these people in these local county positions that are hurting you. We basically have a bunch of bureaucrats trying to solve an intractable problem from an office in Washington, and I think it’s a big deal.
Such bureaucracy is to be expected, he says, which is why he likes to see the cooperative model in action. He believes that waiting for USDA has proven to be an ineffective solution, and he advocates that black farmers, young and old, share information and resources to address issues such as operating capital and debt relief. debt and to fight disinformation.
In the meantime, he’s not abandoning the USDA. He wants to see more visits to black-owned farms and wants farmers to receive more cohesive workshops and more attention to their specific issues, especially those in more isolated areas. Awareness needs to be improved, he said, if progress is to be possible.
âYou know, there are days when I sit here and think, ‘I hope that in my lifetime I won’t see the black farmer go extinct,'” Washington said.
In Kansas, Bradshaw says he feels the isolation of being part of a community that continues to shrink. âThere are higher concentrations of black farmers in the south. We had four large black colonies here in Kansas, and they virtually all disappeared – wiped out by systemic racism and discrimination. “
Bradshaw was due to receive payment from the USDA this month, ahead of the injunction. He believes he will still see the check since the bill was enacted by Joe Biden, but until then he has to wait to spend the money on paying off current loan balances, which was his plan.
And while he doesn’t seem surprised – perhaps unhappy – by the news of the white farmers’ lawsuit putting payments on hold, he sees a benefit. âOne thing: It raised a lot of eyebrows about what black farmers go through and the challenges they face on a daily basis. And I think that has inspired some get-up-and-go. We are not going to be defeated; we’ll see this thing through.