Too little, too late for black farmers

WASHINGTON — I am a descendent of good country people who turned the soil, planted seeds, watered roots and nurtured the tender shoots that sprang from the earth. They did it when they had to. And they did it when they didn’t. They did it because the land was theirs, and that has made all the difference.

I’m lucky. I was born to parents who both came from property-owning families, tough rural folk who toiled from “can see to cain’t,” who labored under a scorching Alabama sun, who battled drought and bugs and bankers to keep the land for their children and their children’s children.

Not all farmers managed to keep that inheritance. Some lost their land to the vicissitudes of nature — drought and flood, frost and plagues. Others simply gave up and sold for what little they could get. Farming has never been an easy way of life.

But black farmers were dogged by an additional difficulty: the racism of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Local bureaucrats denied them loans, delayed their payments, refused them information and, in some cases, even disputed their deeds.

That blatant discrimination contributed to the stunning loss of black-owned agricultural land over the 20th century. In 1910, black Americans held title to at least 16 million acres. By the end of the century, black ownership had dwindled to about 2.4 million acres, according to researchers.

Recognizing a pattern of gross racism, the USDA settled a class action lawsuit — initiated by a black North Carolina farmer named Tim Pigford —  in 1999. Since then, the government has paid out around $1 billion to settle claims. But the initial fund wasn’t large enough to provide recompense to all the farmers who were injured, and their representatives have struggled for the last decade to persuade presidents and lawmakers to provide them some measure of justice.

On Nov. 19, finally, the U.S. Senate agreed to set aside an additional $1.15 billion for black farmers. (The Senate also set aside $3.4 billion to repay native Americans for federal mishandling of a land trust managed by the Department of Interior.) In a sign of the seriousness of the claims, the payments were approved with no objections.

Still, controversy lingers over the black farmers’ settlement. The House, which has already approved the funds, will have to take another vote; some House Republicans have vowed opposition to what they see as a vast scam. Tea party firebrand Michele Bachman (R-Minn.) has even pledged to hold hearings and “investigate every single claim before it goes out.”

Bachmann and her ilk are just playing to the preconceptions of a noisy claque. Any member of Congress ought to know that the settlement already provides a system for ferreting out fraud among those seeking compensation. Many fraudulent claims have already been denied.

But there was also plenty of real racism. Just ask Shirley Sherrod. (Yes, she’s also the former USDA employee who was the victim, ironically, of a set-up accusing her of discriminating against a white farmer.) She and her husband were members of a South Georgia farming collective that received $13 million in compensation for the contempt and hostility they suffered at the hands of local USDA officials.

Still, even the Senate’s extraordinary action cannot restore the economic prospects that black farmers lost to a long season of injustice. As I know so well, family property confers benefits over generations. My fortunes were boosted by a toehold in the propertied class purchased with the sweat and tears of long-dead ancestors.

Conversely, the heirs of black farmers who lost that toehold may never have enjoyed quite the same opportunities.  They did not have access to the equity that might have secured college educations or entrepreneurship. That’s a harvest forever lost.

198 comments Add your comment

Good Grief

November 29th, 2010
9:42 am

Wow, CT, you may have hit a perfect trifecta here.

1. Play the race card.
2. Blame Conservatives.
3. Denigrate the Tea Party.

I’m proud of you.

As for your seeming indignation that a conservative (or any politician for that matter) would dare to question some of these claims, I think they have a point. During the hurricane season several years ago you had people who were several hundred miles from hurricane-landfall areas making claims to FEMA for money, so it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that someone might try to take advantage of this ruling.

csquared

November 29th, 2010
9:51 am

Grief, you want SCAMS, just check the continuing use of Govt funds to subsidize farmers of all races.

Jimmy62

November 29th, 2010
10:00 am

Interesting.

It should be pointed out that if Sherrod thought about denying help to white farmers because they were white, then others probably did more than think about it. But I doubt there will ever be justice there.

The problem with these things is that I wasn’t around then, and my family didn’t even live in the US. So why should I have to pony up tax dollars because some people were racist many years ago? Don’t I have a right to my own money? Two wrongs do not ever make a right.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

November 29th, 2010
10:01 am

I think our esteemed hostess looks through the telescope backwards. Why were taxpayers subsidizing white farmers, with loans, etc? The issue is not that black farmers did not get their share of the stolen taxpayer booty, the issue is that our overlords looted and diverted to large property holders. Disgusting.

ctucker

November 29th, 2010
10:02 am

Jimmy62, The racism continued into the 1990s. Were you here then?

ctucker

November 29th, 2010
10:03 am

Good Grief, You get a C-minus on reading comprehension. As I wrote, there is a system in place for denying fraudulent claims.

Avenger

November 29th, 2010
10:10 am

grief. If you are old enough, stop your double talk. If you are that young to be ignorant of American history, go to the library and read a little bit. Cynthia gave you facts and all you could do is utter that over used phrase “playing the race card” No one is talking about paying fraudulent claims. Every one knows that some will take advantage of any program – look no further than the crooks on wall street.

Jack

November 29th, 2010
10:13 am

I never caused a problem for farmers of any color, yet money out of my pocket is included in the $1.15 billion set-aside: Sins of my fathers and all that I suppose.

ctucker

November 29th, 2010
10:15 am

Jack@10:13, I never caused any problem for black farmers, either. And money is also being taken out of my pocket. At least I approve of the settlement. Money is being taken out of my pocket for the invasion of Iraq, of which I never approved.

Jethro

November 29th, 2010
10:16 am

The race card needs to be played here. Blatant discrimination, greed (look at the history of property ownership in Forsyth Co.), and an overwhelming urge to “keep people in their place” is how this government works.

A government of the people, by the people and for the people should not be able to plunder the people simply because they aren’t WASP. Don’t give me this crap about “playing the race card” to get something to which they are entitled. They are entitled to every penny. The only unfair thing is that we can’t go back in time and systematically prosecute those who took advantage of their “right to be white.”

Crawl back into your hole on this one, Grief. Just because you say you don’t engage in this type of behavior doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. If you want to be a “compassionate conservative,” protect the rights of all.

Tech Man

November 29th, 2010
10:17 am

Too little too late for the family farm period.

Avenger

November 29th, 2010
10:19 am

62. If you want to be a citizen of the US, you have to take the bad with the good. If your country does bad things, the citizens suffer – just ask people of war torn countries. Of course you can go back to the country where your parents came from. Life is not playing marbles – there aren’t any do-overs. There are consequences for evil actions – just ask any criminal.

___

November 29th, 2010
10:20 am

“The race card needs to be played here..”

The race card does not ever need to be played.

Georgian

November 29th, 2010
10:23 am

Facts are you dont give away money on the “assumption” wrongs were done. Many lost their land and alot more during those periods of time. Times were hard. But of course being black meant they lost it because of the color of their skin. Why dont we go back and compensate all the other ppl’s families who lost land during that period. I mean those white farmers that couldnt make payments for their should have been given the black farmers land that was taken from them. Right?

AFret

November 29th, 2010
10:25 am

This whole claim process for black farmer is racist. Is the black farmer the only one who lost land or had some type of dispute for deeds? What about the American Indian? Oh, never mind, they aren’t black and CT does not care, her racism is as shallow and obvious as needed for her use. This whole USDA claim is shadowing reparations. Let’s not forget the forty acres and a mule! Where has the forty acres gone? How about the black farmers sue the government for giving them faulty mules, they have all probably died by now!!

Good Grief

November 29th, 2010
10:28 am

I read your entire article, CT. But one line of defense against abuse of a system is not always good enough.

I also know about the history of racial prejudice in this country. But it seems to me that the liberal response to any prejudice or misjustice (be it real of imagined) is to take money from one group and give it to another. This concept works for slavery, climate change, and social justice.

Were some people hurt by this practice? Absolutely. Does that mean that the government has the right to use my tax dollars to pay them back (when neither myself nor any of my familial ancestors were slave owners or had anything to do with any part of government instituting this practice)? I’m not sure about that.

And Jethro, a couple of points on what you wrote:
1. I am not a “compassionate conservative” nor do I aspire to be one.
2. You’ll note that I’m not trying to deny history. I’m a student of history. I know these things happened. But suddenly there is a rising tide on the liberal side that says people in the past should’ve been allowed to keep what was theirs (land, wealth, etc.), but in this day and age, we cannot allow people to keep there wealth. I remember a certain Democrat saying that the Bush administration held to a simplistic notion that people should be entitled to keep their wealth. You can’t have it both ways.

cosby

November 29th, 2010
10:30 am

CT,

you have been on the Republicans back since the election. now the race card. why not look at it as The wonderful Federal Government you so choose to turn your life over to is corrupt. Sorry I am not buying into your racism. My family worked the soil as well but they do not own the land now thanks in part to the wonderful US Government..Wonder if it will be racism when The Feds determine how much you will make and will you blame the Republicans. give it a rest and report all the discrimination by the Feds and how it effects us all.

Bob

November 29th, 2010
10:34 am

Cynthia, you are still paying for the Korean war, but that was by dems so we will just act like Korea invaded us. The repubs should fight this giveaway to the farmers and make every applicant proove that they were farmers.

Peadawg

November 29th, 2010
10:35 am

The good ‘ol race card. And the GOP is now racist b/c they may not vote to spend $1.15 billion(which will add to the growing debt) in checks to black farmers as a politically correct apology. Geeze….

ctucker

November 29th, 2010
10:36 am

cosby@10:30, You get a D-minus on reading comprehension. A court found that the Justice Dept had engaged in racism, not me. And I don’t believe I blamed the Republicans for that.

ctucker

November 29th, 2010
10:37 am

Good Grief@10:28, Govt racism caused actual monetary damage. Should that be ignored? Too bad, we’re moving on? When a corporation is sued for damages and the plaintiff collects, it doesn’t matter if the stockholders had nothing to do with it. Their money is still forked over.

ctucker

November 29th, 2010
10:38 am

AFret@10:25, You get a F for reading comprehension. And for history. Black farmers never received their promised 40 acres and a mule.

AFret

November 29th, 2010
10:39 am

USDA estimates approximatley 33,000 black farmers in America! Approximatley 94,000 claims have been filed. There is not any mention of the blacks trying to screw the government. I have a black vehicle and drove by a farm, talked to a black man. Wheres my money!!

ctucker

November 29th, 2010
10:41 am

Georgian@10:23, D-minus on reading comprehension.

AFret

November 29th, 2010
10:42 am

CT, So, now you have the power to judge peoples education and abilities, just because they disagree with you. You are special! All you are missing is th UN!

Todd

November 29th, 2010
10:44 am

More hand-outs for blacks who refuse to take responsibility for their own lives. The white man does not owe the blacks a thing. This is just another attempt at “reparations” There is not one single slave or slave owner alive today nor has there been any for at least 50 years. It is time for blacks to man up, get a shred of dignity, and work for what they get – no more scraps thrown from whites. Thank the good lord that we are now beginning to take back our country from socialists and black moochers – we will finish flushing the toilet in 2012.

ctucker

November 29th, 2010
10:44 am

AFret@10:42, If they disagree with something I ACTUALLY WROTE, they get a much higher grade.

blutto

November 29th, 2010
10:45 am

Jethro: “The only unfair thing is that we can’t go back in time and systematically prosecute those who took advantage of their “right to be white.””

If we could do that, the entire Democrat Party would have been imprisoned decades ago.

Kamchak

November 29th, 2010
10:48 am

1. I am not a “compassionate conservative” nor do I aspire to be one.

Congratulations.

You have succeeded.

AFret

November 29th, 2010
10:51 am

CT, nobody ever see anything YOU ACTUALLY WROTE. Cut & Paste away!!

Van Jones

November 29th, 2010
10:56 am

Life isn’t fair… now give me some money.

Liberal changing to conservative

November 29th, 2010
10:56 am

Maybe we should have these funds handled by ACORN…..

Rusty

November 29th, 2010
10:58 am

Your ancestors sound like amazing, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people. I’m SURE they would be so proud of you.

ctucker

November 29th, 2010
10:59 am

Rusty@10:58, Taking you comment at face value – I hope they would be

ctucker

November 29th, 2010
10:59 am

See, AFret@10:51, You’ve just proved my point about your reading problems.

ctucker

November 29th, 2010
11:00 am

Todd@10:44, You, too, get an “F” on reading comprehension.

AFret

November 29th, 2010
11:06 am

CT, see CT@ 1059. Point taken.

retired early

November 29th, 2010
11:07 am

I worked for the Farmers Home Administration from 1977 to 1982. The agency had a white mentality simply because of the much larger number of white employees, period but the equal rights investigators kept the agency from making any decisions based on race. The “County Committees” consisting of local farmers actually had final approval authority for Farm loans. So, If a farmer, black or white did not practice “good farming practices” resulting in crop failures, those farmers would not be granted more credit, period.

TnGelding

November 29th, 2010
11:07 am

Please tell me this didn’t happen in the Greatest Country in History. Have we no shame? Maybe it was too late to do anything, especially since we can’t afford it. But at least it’s stimulus well spent.

Keep up the good fight!

November 29th, 2010
11:08 am

So when the “tea party takes back their country” does that mean that some of the farms will be returned?

mike

November 29th, 2010
11:08 am

I have an idea. How about government getting out of the loan business and avoid this type of stuff altogether?

Call it like it is

November 29th, 2010
11:12 am

This is a great idea. Yes pay blacks for their farms, pay Indians for their land that was stolen, whites should be paid for their land being stolen by carpet baggers, England should pay us for the homes they burnt in the war of 1812, Africa should pay American blacks for selling them into slavery, Mexicans should be paid for Texas and Calif which was taken from them. Then the whole world needs to go after the Roman empire for the damage they caused for 100’s of years.

Lets just have everybody exchange checks and call everything even.

Gator Joe

November 29th, 2010
11:13 am

“Too little, too late,” indeed. The lasting legacy of slavery and racism will continue to play itself out for Blacks, that is, unless a genuine attempt is made to address the lingering inequality. I’m not optimistic though, ingrained racism and bigotry, combined with ignorance are difficult, if not impossible to eliminate. Most whites will not, or have not, taken the time to imagine what it would be like to live as a Black person under slavery, Jim Crow, or even today in poverty.

James

November 29th, 2010
11:13 am

CT@ 10:37- you, like most polarized thinking folks, label the gov’t as a separate institution whenever convenient. The gov’t, and its monetary capital, are the taxpayers. The correct analogy would be me suing you because your grandfather shot my grandfather. The gov’t is owned by the taxpayer and its people. A corporation is owned by its private stakeholders. Your analogy doesn’t even begin to hold water.

Not meant to be against the great American black, white, yellow, or whatever farmer but I did think we would have a blog on wiki leaks.

Keep up the good fight!

November 29th, 2010
11:16 am

Call, nice rant but sorry…Those black farmers paid their taxes to the US govt in 1912 and were as entitled as any white person to participate in US Govt programs on a fair and equal basis as constitutionally required. You may not like it but the point is simple….this is one of the checks and balances on keeping government programs fair and equal, without discrimination.

AFret

November 29th, 2010
11:18 am

What about the American Indians? The farms were theirs first.

CuTe the Pulitzer Prize Winner

November 29th, 2010
11:18 am

I love playing the race card, when necessary. White Americans have been playing the RACE CARD for years. (No One Complained.)

Keep up the good fight!

November 29th, 2010
11:19 am

James, definitely the government is supported by taxes. Those black farmers paid their taxes fairly and yet their government denied them the right to access programs supported by their taxes. SO really they are getting back what they paid to some extent.

Keep up the good fight!

November 29th, 2010
11:20 am

Fret….. and Native Americans (they are not Indians) have received a variety of compensation for the wrongful taking of their land over and over…..although it will never truly compensate.

AFret

November 29th, 2010
11:25 am

KutGF @1120, I am Apache, I am Indian, I am proud! Do not assume you can lable me as you see fit!