Black Farmers in America
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Thanks for the fantastic content, this is a big area of potential sovereignty for the community. Great piece, would love to also read something on how black-owned urban farms like in Detroit can be part of future economies and how they can be sustained. Very informative.
What happened to America’s black farmers?
I highly recommend continuing this conversation by reading and working with Leah Penniman and her excellent book, Farming While Black. It is about keeping your heritage a your land. With the loan going in default they can pressure you to sale your land pennies on the dollar. Black scientists taught them how to save the land. Yes we will always need Black Farmers. So much of our land have been taken or stolen from us. Very good information. We must double our efforts to startup and support Black Farms.
This historical attack on Black Farmers, by racist government agencies i.
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FDA etc. Very good article. I myself have been working in organic agriculture for the past 4 years in very different regions of the country, and yet, everywhere you see a very white sustainable ag environment. In Mississippi this past year, one of my farmer friends was fighting against auditors who were trying to cheat him out of the land that his family had lived on since slavery. Appreciate the article and the attention given here as the most power one can have in this country is ownership and particularly land ownership.
The Farm Security Administration FSA , established in , was another New Deal program that further exacerbated income inequality between black and white farmers. County FSA committees allocated loan and grant funds in a discriminatory manner. The standard rural rehabilitation program was created to serve high-risk farmers. In , blacks in the South received 23 percent of the allocated standard rehabilitation loans but made up 37 percent of all low-income farmers in the South.
In , blacks were 35 percent of tenant farmers in the South but only received 21 percent of tenant-purchase loans. This type of discrimination continued during most of the 20th century. Discriminatory county supervisors consistently excluded black farmers from many of the USDA programs meant to assist low-income farmers. Avoidable foreclosures and loss of property have damaged credit scores and ruined the lives of black farmers and their descendants, all while USDA programs have helped lift white farmers out of poverty.
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In , just a year after a U. In , President Bill Clinton reopened the office, but the damage had been done.
By , blacks made up less than 1 percent of all farm operators, down from 1. Although the history of discrimination within the USDA has been well-documented by government-sponsored reports since , 37 real action to address the problem did not begin until , when Timothy Pigford filed a class action lawsuit— Pigford v. Glickman —on behalf of black farmers, alleging that the USDA discriminated against black farmers from to However, several issues involving communication and missed deadlines created concern that the settlement process was unfair.
President Barack Obama signed the Claims Resolution Act of , which provided the necessary appropriations, after it made its way through Congress. Decades of vigorous organizing by black farmers and their communities won key legislative victories and reforms within the USDA. Notably, the Farm Bill signaled a key legislative victory, empowering the secretary of agriculture to appoint underrepresented farmers to local Farm Service Agency committees. By ensuring that the first line of support for farmers better reflects the makeup of the population it serves, the USDA began to mitigate the discrimination occurring at the local level.
A provision in the farm bill, introduced by Sen. Although these victories represent a step forward, cases of discrimination by public and private actors still exist. For example, the Provost family, black cane farmers based in Louisiana, said they suffered discrimination, fraud, vandalism, and retaliation after they filed a lawsuit against First Guaranty Bank on September 21, The Provosts allege that the bank and the USDA denied them necessary crop loans to maintain their sugarcane farm and as a result, they were forced into foreclosure. The lawsuit is still ongoing.
Even post- Pigford , black farmers such as the Provosts need more protections against discrimination.
During George W. The USDA reviewed the bulk of the complaints made during the Bush years and found that about 3, of them had merit. Progressive efforts, such as those taken under the Obama administration, to address past discrimination and level the playing field for black farmers are turning the tide. Even as the total number of American farms has decreased, black farmers have experienced a resurgence.
Only sustained federal, state, and local commitment to black farmers will ensure that black farms are preserved, that beginning farmers of color have access to affordable land and technical assistance, and that USDA programs are implemented equitably.
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A long history of racism and discrimination has built a legacy of distrust between black communities and the U. S government in general—and for the U. Department of Agriculture specifically. The discriminatory implementation of farm policy over previous decades has meant lasting negative economic implications for black farmers, particularly those living in the rural South.
The USDA plays a pivotal role in rural America, including administering a wide range of rural economic development programs that go beyond farming. Therefore, it is imperative that the USDA at the local, state, and federal levels prioritize policies that help beginning farmers and famers of color. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has demonstrated indifference to both civil rights and family farms.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue selected her for deputy assistant secretary for civil rights, which is not a Senate-confirmed position. While progressive policymakers have made strides in addressing past discrimination against black farmers and the loss of land and wealth that resulted from it, only continuing commitment will make a lasting difference. Below are four strategies that federal lawmakers can employ in developing progressive policies to preserve and build the wealth of black farmers and their families. These policies would not only help black farmers but also help farmers of color more broadly, and they can ensure that the U.
The most pressing policy priority for lawmakers should be the restoration and preservation of black-owned land. Given the aging demographics of farmers broadly, 70 percent of farmland will be sold or transferred in about 20 years. The federal government need not wait for the courts to direct it to pay settlements to black farm families who have lost their legacy and way of life due to discrimination. Congress should create a progressive land trust that buys land from farmers looking to retire and set it aside for beginning farmers of color, who could purchase the land at a subsidized rate.
Finally, the USDA must create a task force dedicated to estate planning for socially disadvantaged farmers who have no living will, ensuring that the next generation gets a chance to carry on the family legacy.
Progressive Governance Can Turn the Tide for Black Farmers - Center for American Progress
If one plot of land has multiple owners and one heir wants to sell, for example, a judge can force the sale over the objections of the rest of the family. Federal and state lawmakers should pass legislation that protects farmers from forced partition sales of their operations. Finally, the law requires that the property be assessed by a neutral third party and publicly listed. Public funding for agricultural research and extension services that bring research findings to farmers must receive full mandatory funding at both the federal and state levels.
Research and education in the public interest is crucial to the survival of family farms. The mission of the Outreach and Technical Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program—sometimes referred to as the Program—is to ensure that technical assistance and education efforts reach farmers who have been historically excluded from extension programs.
The USDA Minority Farmers Advisory Committee advises the administration of the program to ensure that it is conducted in an inclusive and culturally sensitive way. A progressive farm bill must include mandatory funding for research dedicated to identifying challenges unique to black farmers and farmers of color more broadly, as well as quality solutions. Progressive governance demands transparency and accountability.
Additionally, the USDA should create an online civil rights complaint database that will be jointly monitored by the GAO and periodically publish statistics about the speed at which the complaints are processed, the number of complaints found to have merit, and the number of pending complaints. At its core, government is a tool that helps distribute power by structuring the rules of economic and political systems. For too long in the United States, that tool was used to discriminate against black farmers in favor of their white peers. Yet with a race-centered approach, that same tool can be used to improve the economic well-being of black farmers, creating a system that gives them a fair chance to build a good life for themselves and their families.