The following was provided by John W. Boyd, Jr., founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association
WASHINGTON - For decades, black farmers dealt with devastating discrimination from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Because of it, many lost their land. Others simply failed to prosper, denied the help the government gave white farmers much more easily and much more freely.
These facts are not in dispute. In 1997, a case against the federal government brought by about 400 black farmers, Pigford v. Glickman, was settled out of court. Under its terms, 13,000 black farmers, about 3,000 of them from South Carolina, received $50,000 each and some debt relief.
Later, after the USDA admitted that thousands more complaints from black farmers had gone uninvestigated in the 1990s, Pigford II was created to compensate them.
Earlier this year, the Department of Justice released a statement in which Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack agreed that a resolution to Pigford II had been reached, contingent on the appropriation of funds by Congress.
“Following the appropriation, class members may pursue their individual claims through a non-judicial claims process in front of a neutral arbitrator,” the Justice Department statement said.
Participants in the suit are supposed to be entitled to up to $50,000 and debt relief. Some could receive as much as $250,000 through a more rigorous process that will set actual damages in the cases. But the statement goes on to say, “The actual value of the awards may be reduced based on the total amount of funds made available and the number of successful claims.”
And since Congress has failed to make even a penny available to pay the claims, the current effective level of the claims is zero.
In July, the House approved a war supplemental funding bill that included $1.25 billion to pay for the settlement. The Senate has not followed suit and, according to National Black Farmers Association head John Boyd, has failed to approve the funds in seven separate votes. The funding was most notably stripped out of a recent farm aid disaster bill.
The situation is quickly becoming a national disgrace.
Black farmers frequently faced devastating discrimination from the federal government as they tried to scratch out a living on their land. Not even the federal government denies this.
They were denied loans that their white counterparts received. They were denied assistance that their white counterparts received. Time after time, the USDA failed in its mission to help these black farmers, and when the black farmers made formal complaints, those too were ignored.
On Tuesday, Boyd, the National Black Farmer’s Association head, showed up in front of a federal courthouse in Manhattan riding a mule, an attempt to remind people of the broken post-Civil War promise of “40 acres and a mule” to freed slaves that never materialized. It was a theatrical gesture, but a powerful one.
These farmers were discriminated against. It cost them dearly, and it took the government years to admit it. The Senate needs to appropriate the funds for Pigford II, lest the shame grow even deeper.