My hope is that the farmers and their families who were denied access to USDA loans and programs will be made whole and will have the chance to rebuild their lives and their businesses – Barack Obama
It’s time President Barack Obama paid up on Pigford.
Pigford represents a landmark case of racial discrimination in America and illustrates how government leaders have, and continue to use a plethora of tricks to avoid paying Blacks their just due for wrongs do for wrongs committed against them in America. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been the bane of American racism and held the reputation of “The Last Plantation” for decades. Twelve years after the USDA agreed to settle the discrimination illustrated in the Pigford case, the money promised remains unpaid.
Pigford is proof positive of institutional racism in America. Occasionally patterns of racism are scheduled for righting. In 1999 federal courts ruled that the USDA engaged in racist practices by denying financial help to economically distressed Black farmers. North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford, along with hundreds of other Black farmers, won their class-action discrimination lawsuit against then-Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman when Pigford v. Glickman discovered that between 1981 and 1996 “minorities received less than their fair share of USDA funds for crops and disaster payments and loans. The case was settled out of court and about 15,000 farmers were paid a total in excess of $900 million. But Pigford continued with tens of thousands of claimants who filed claims after the settlement deadline. Now many in Congress and the federal government seek to deny these farmers their due.
Payment for Pigford is mocked by many. Flooding damage to mid-western farms along the Missouri River provided Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Steve King (R-Iowa) a press audience. Reporters asked them if their calls for drastic cuts in federal spending would mean less money for emergency aid to help beleaguered farmers. King responded that there would be more money for the mostly White farmers if the government was not paying so much to settle cases involving racial discrimination against Black farmers. Presidential candidate Bachmann joined King in saying that the mid-western farmers deserved the money and charged that a large percentage of the USDA settlement consisted of "fraudulent claims". "King said "I’d like to apply that money to the people that are under water right now” and characterized the Black farmers’ suit as “modern-day reparations.”
Despite having won the largest civil rights discrimination settlement in history, Black farmers are still struggling to get paid. Flagrant discrimination has dominated Black lives on farms in America. Although the U.S. government never followed through on its promise of “40 acres and a mule” to freed slaves, and in spite of systematic processes and programs to stymie their efforts African-Americans were able to establish a foothold in Southern agriculture. Black land ownership peaked in 1910, when 218,000 African-American farmers had ownership stakes in 15 million acres of land. But, through the machinations of southern bureaucrats and the USDA, by 1992 Black ownership numbers had dwindled to 2.3 million acres held by 18,000 farmers. The problem is the number of Black farmers that have been forced off their land. In 1920, one of out seven U.S. farms was Black-owned and operated; but by 1992 Black farmers operated just one of every 100 farms.
Pigford shows America’s legacy of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow. Black farmers have been done a series of injustices and those who have lost family land and legacies shouldn’t be slandered as bums looking for a handout. The Pigford settlement was not reverse racism, or for undeserving people trying to pull some scam on the government. It was the end result of a thorough legal process “to make them whole.”
Many African Americans are owed “a debt” of reparations. But for Black farmers the USDA was an agency that never played fair with them. The USDA caused generations of Black farmers enormous economic hardships; now viable steps toward funding Pigford and Black farmers’ claims are in order.
(William Reed is available for speaking/seminar projects via BaileyGroup.org)
William Reed Columnist