Black U.S. farmers win landmark decision over the USDA

In our September 22, 2011 issue, we carried the following report in a column by Lennox Farrell about the historic struggle of a group of Black U.S. farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

On September 1, 2011, CNN carried a report: “Black farmers’ case close to conclusion as settlement decision nears”.

This is a case specific to the National Black Farmers Association of America. They have been fighting a case of massive discrimination against them by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While the USDA for decades provided billions of dollars to White farmers in states like Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, etc., the Black farmers were not only denied similar federal funds, but in their efforts seeking redress were also charged legal fees in the millions and because of which many had their farms and equipment seized as payment for these debts.

At a hearing this month, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman said, “I need to determine if it is fair, adequate and reasonable.”

The proposed settlement is a descendant of a similar lawsuit dating back to the 1980s known as the “Pigford Case,” named after Tim Pigford, a Black farmer who claimed racial bias in applications for USDA programs and financing. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told reporters there’s no question the damages are due for Black farmers who suffered from previous discrimination by local and regional staff at the Agriculture Department.

Congress agreed to fund this latest settlement as a provision in the 2008 farm bill signed by President Barack Obama who had said, “… this is justice too long delayed and overdue.”

The case reported on by CNN is really the story of a Black farmer named John Boyd, the great grandson of enslaved Americans. Boyd refused to buckle under, or run even after his home was one night invaded by Klansmen who, to make their point, shoved a rifle into his mouth.

When Boyd addressed Judge Friedman, backed by other farmers wearing t-shirts printed with “We support John Boyd – Pay The Black Farmers”, on many occasions they broke into resounding applause, not allowed in court. The judge did not stop them.

If the NBFA finally succeeds in its quest for justice, in will be yet another ‘Rosa Parks’ moment, that is, it takes one determined individual, backed by an issue of justice, to win victory.

Last Thursday, Judge Friedman made his landmark ruling giving final approval to a $1.2 billion settlement to the Black farmers.

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