America’s Last Plantation

May 17, 2009 at 6:17 pm Leave a comment

For years, federal officials in the South discriminated against Black farmers, denying them federal loans and grants that White farmers easily received.

When Barack Obama was running for president he championed their cause. He created a bill to compensate the farmers, many of whom had lost their land and livelihoods. Obama’s efforts helped him secure the support of Black members of Congress and voters in the rural South.

Now it looks like the Obama administration may be trying to avoid fairly compensating these Black farmers. It would be a shame for this to happen.  Together, we can make sure it doesn’t.

Will you join us in asking President Obama to make good on his commitment? It only takes a minute.Black farmers in the US

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a long and ugly history of discrimination against Black people.  1) The Department’s new Secretary, Tom Vilsack, recently said “Some folks refer to USDA as the last plantation.”  2) Across the South, White local and regional USDA managers routinely denied Black farmers critical farm loans and disaster assistance — aid that was easily granted to White farmers.  3) This federal assistance often meant the difference between a thriving, economically viable farm and foreclosure.

While not the sole factor, historic discrimination has helped drive Black farmers out of the business in huge numbers, many of them losing their homes, their farms, and their land. While 14% of all farmers were Black at the turn of the last century, by 2002 only 1.4% were Black.

In 2001, a man named Timothy Pigford stood up for Black farmers, filing a class action lawsuit called Pigford v. Glickman that led to a landmark settlement: Black farmers who could show evidence of discrimination in getting loans and other aid were entitled to $50,000 and a tax break.  But there was a very brief deadline for filing a claim, and the government did such a bad job letting people know about the settlement that many farmers didn’t even find out about it in time to get the relief they deserved.

Relief Denied?

As a senator, Barack Obama fought to get these folks access to the money they deserved, and he won. Congress set aside $100 million to start paying the farmers back, knowing that this would only cover a small part of the total amount the government owed them. The understanding was that more money would be made available later.

But now that Obama is President, his administration’s lawyers have argued that the $100 million should be a cap on the total amount of money payed out, to be split between all the farmers. This would give each farmer as little as $2,000 or $3,000, even though the bill Obama passed as a senator said that farmers should get the full amount called for in the original settlement.

Obama administration officials have said that the president is committed to doing the right thing.  We want to give the president the benefit of the doubt, but we all know that actions speak louder than words.

President Obama has said that it takes folks at the grassroots level to hold politicians accountable — himself included — and force them to do what’s right. Now is clearly one of those times. We’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars bailing out banks and car companies after years of greed and mismanagement. It’s time for the administration to do the right thing and give these farmers the relief that they’ve been denied for too long. Please join us in demanding that they do.

Thanks and Peace,

— James, Gabriel, William, Dani and the rest of the team
   April 30th, 2009

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1. “USDA’s historic actions to assist minority farmers,” The Daily Citizen, 4-24-2009

2. “Vilsack says USDA must sharpen focus on civil rights,”, 2-23-2009

3. “Second Chance For Black Farmers,” Yes Magazine, Summer 2001

4. “Discrimination by USDA Against Black Farmers Gets Presidential,” The Daily Yonder, 3-4-2008

5. “The Pigford Case: USDA Settlement of a Discrimination Suit by Black Farmers,” Congressional Research Service, 1-13-2009

6. “CBC upset over Obama’s stance on black farmers,” The Hill, 2-23-2009

7. “Black farmers to hold rally against gov’t discrimination,” The Militant, 5-4-2009

8. “PROMISES, PROMISES: Obama and black farmers,” Associated Press, 4-21-2009

9. See reference 8.

10. See reference 8.

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