Time to Pony Up With Black Farmers

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     I’m on the grind, trying to make paper stack up/And if I slip and fall, then I get back up.” – “Trying to Get Paid.” – Paul Wall

    Blacks need to develop a mindset that “it’s time to get paid!” If we decide to go after what is owed us, what better payer is there than the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)? When it comes to discrimination based on race, theft and appropriation of Blacks’ land and outright illegalities toward a particular race of people, the USDA is the master culprit.

    If the George Zimmerman verdict makes you feel violated, take a look at the decades of proven racism and discriminatory practices at USDA toward Black farmers. While Blacks’ attention and concern have been placed elsewhere, an overall travesty has been occurring for Blacks across America. Years since President Obama signed a law compensating Black farmers for decades of discrimination by federal agriculture officials, the claims haven’t been paid.

    Racism and ethnic discrimination has been at the core of the American fabric from the beginning. Despite the political power Blacks have acquired, including that of the president of the United States, the case of the Black farmers tests Blacks’ measure of political power and clout.

    The latest voice in the matter, Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, says payments from a $1.2 billion discrimination settlement should start going out to Black farmers soon. The settlement resolved a lawsuit the farmers filed against the federal Department of Agriculture claiming officials denied them loans and other assistance because of their race. Congress approved the settlement in 2010. Farmers originally were told payments would arrive by late 2012. Thompson estimates about 18,000 to 20,000 farmers, mostly in Mississippi and Alabama, will be eligible to receive payments in the case known as “Pigford II.’’

    The settlement Obama signed marked the second round of payments for Black farmers. The first was a 1999 class-action settlement. The USDA denied Black farmers equal access to farm loans and assistance based solely on their race. The USDA settled the case brought by North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford and 400 other Black farmers in “Pigford I” in 1999. The $2.3 billion settlement became the largest in history.

    USDA is the federal executive department responsible for developing and executing policy on farming, agriculture, forestry, and food. The USDA represents centuries of racism toward Blacks and practices that have left them completely out of its loop of productive programs.

    Black America’s first entrepreneurs now need “some help from their friends.” Black farmers have felt the heel of USDA officials for centuries. They tell stories of USDA officials – especially local loan authorities in all-White county committees in the South – spitting on them, throwing their loan applications in the trash and illegally denying them loans. But when the USDA’s local offices did approve loans to Black farmers, they were often supervised, farmers couldn’t spend the borrowed money without receiving item-by-item authorization from the USDA, or the agency paid them late.

    It’s time for America to “pay the Black farmers.” There is a long train of evidence that the USDA participated in ”systemic and planned and orchestrated discrimination.” Although the U.S. government never followed through on its promise to freed slaves of “40 acres and a mule,” 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 in 15 million acres of land. But, by 1992, those numbers had dwindled to 2.3 million acres held by 18,000 Blacks.

    The USDA played a lead role pushing Blacks off their land. In 1920, one out of seven U.S. farms was Black operated; by 1992, African-Americans operated one out of every 100 farms. It’s time that we help the Black farmers get their due. Start with letters to the White House and your member of Congress demanding the USDA uphold the contractual terms of the Pigford I and II cases and pony up Black farmers’ money.

     William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects through the Bailey Group.org.

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