How The USDA Continues To Discriminate Against Black Farmers

The Nation article "How Thousands of Black Farmers Were Forced Off Their Land" which explores how institutional racism
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The following is an excerpt from The Nation article "How Thousands of Black Farmers Were Forced Off Their Land" which explores how institutional racism, within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), has robbed Black farmers of their land and generational wealth.

Since 1965, multiple federal agencies—most notably the USDA itself—have issued reports citing, as the US Commission on Civil Rights put it that year, “unmistakable evidence that racial discrimination” within the Agriculture Department “has served to accelerate the displacement and impoverishment of the Negro farmer.”

Through discriminatory loan denials and deliberate delays in financial aid, the USDA systematically blocked Black farmers from accessing critical federal funds. “If you are Black and you’re born south of the Mason-Dixon Line and you tried to farm, you’ve been discriminated against,” Lloyd Wright, the director of the USDA Office of Civil Rights under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and a Black Virginia farmer, told me.

The debts Black farmers consequently accrued cost them millions of acres, which were then snapped up by white buyers.

In 1920, the number of Black farmers peaked at nearly 1 million, constituting 14 percent of all farmers. But between 1910 and 1997, they lost 90 percent of their property. (White farmers lost only 2 percent in the same period.) As of 2017, there were just 35,470 Black-owned farms, representing 1.7 percent of all farms.

The land Black farmers lost, some 16 million acres, is conservatively estimated to be worth $250 billion to $350 billion today.

In 1997, facing mounting debt, Bernice Atchison signed on as a plaintiff in Pigford v. Glickman, a class-action lawsuit against the USDA brought by Black farmers alleging that the agency had discriminated against them and failed to respond adequately to discrimination complaints.

In the consent decree issued two years later, and in a second settlement in 2010, the USDA agreed to provide claimants with foreclosure relief, priority consideration for future federal farm loans, access to the agency’s land inventory, and billions of dollars to cancel the wrongful debt and interest charges that resulted from the agency’s discrimination.

But the promised resolution never came. Instead, the USDA continued to seize Black farmers’ land through foreclosure, and the Justice Department under George W. Bush and Obama poured millions of dollars into fighting claims and denying payouts.

Many surviving Pigford farmers are deeper in debt today than they were before the lawsuit.

Read more.

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