For years, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) denied Black farmers loans and other aid easily approved for White farmers. Many Black farming families lost their land and livelihoods as a result. The farmers sued the government for damages and won — but only a fraction of them ever got paid.1
As a Senator, Barack Obama helped to secure a new settlement for the remaining Black farmers, but far-right Senate Republicans are committed to keeping the settlement from being paid out, and have repeatedly blocked funding for it over the last year.
It’s time for President Obama to bypass the Republican obstruction. The White House can directly address this injustice and pay these farmers what they’re owed out of administrative funds — and Congressional Black Caucus leaders have previously called for such a solution. 2
Please join us in calling on President Obama to do right by these farmers, and please ask your friends and family to do the same. It takes just a moment:
For more than a generation, managers at the United States Department of Agriculture systematically turned down Black farmers’ applications for loans and other critical forms of aid. These loans are the lifeblood of farming, and without them many Black-owned farms were foreclosed on — and resold to White farmers.
This insidious discrimination enabled some White farmers to prosper and grow at the expense of generations of Black families who sought to make a living off the land. At the same time, it devastated the Black farming community. While 14% of all farmers were Black at the turn of the last century,3 by 2002 only 1.4% were Black.4
Black farmers eventually filed a class action lawsuit against the federal government, winning a landmark legal settlement in 1999. At the time, the USDA paid only a portion of the farmers with legitimate claims, so a second settlement was announced — but Congress never approved funding to pay the remaining farmers.5
Republican obstruction has been the main stumbling block on the Black farmers’ long road to justice. Far-right Senate Republicans have repeatedly stood in the way of funding the settlement. First they demanded that the money to pay the farmers not add to the national budget deficit.6 Even after that requirement was satisfied, they once again blocked a vote on the appropriation.7
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are rightfully furious at the Republicans’ stalling, and have called on President Obama to bypass the legislative process by paying the settlement out of administrative funds.8 The White House has maintained that it doesn’t have the money to pay the $1.25 billion settlement — but at the same time, the administration promised to find $1.5 billion to pay disaster relief for wealthier, mostly white farmers in Arkansas.9
With Congress becoming even more conservative after November’s election, it is even less likely that funding for the Black farmers’ discrimination settlement will be funded in next year’s Congress. It needs to happen now.
The White House has worked hard to pass the funding through Congress, but now they need to show Congressional Republicans that they mean business. As the CBC pointed out, justice delayed is justice denied for these aging men and women. Every day, another farm is foreclosed on and more farmers die without having been compensated for the shattering discrimination they faced. Join us in supporting the CBC’s call for President Obama to fund the Black farmers’ settlement. And when you do, please ask your friends and family to do the same.
Thanks and peace,
— James, Gabriel, William, Dani, Natasha, and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team
November 10th, 2010
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1. "Second Chance For Black Farmers," Yes Magazine, Summer 2001
2. "Black lawmakers irate over Emanuel’s $1.5 billion promise to Sen. Lincoln," The Hill, 7-30-2010
3. "Discrimination by USDA Against Black Farmers Gets Presidential," The Daily Yonder, 3-4-2008
4. "The Pigford Case: USDA Settlement of a Discrimination Suit by Black Farmers," Congressional Research Service, 1-13-2009
6. "Pigford Vote Delayed; Expected Tomorrow," Talking Points Memo, 8-3-2010
7. "Obama: Pigford II Settlement For African-American Farmers Is A ‘Priority’," Talking Points Memo, 9-10-2010
8. See reference 2
9. See reference 2