At its best farming is a high-risk business with market fluctuations and the
increasing unpredictability of the weather. Additionally, the expansion of
the agribusiness has meant that small farms are being swallowed up by large
corporations because they don't have access to elaborate distribution
networks as well as the latest scientific and technological advances. In
addition to these challenges black farmers must contend with the racist
practices of both private and public institutions particularly lending
Private lending institutions have been notorious in their denial of loans to
black applicants in all sectors. Farmers, it was believed, had an advantage
because the federal government had created numerous subsidy and loan programs
to protect the national food source. But the class action lawsuit makes it
clear that there too racism was a norm. These black farmers have exposed the
role of the USDA in illegally denying them credit and acting against their
It has been documented that FSAs across the country refused to give farmers
loan application or lost their completed forms. And for applications that
made it through this arbitrary system, it took 220 days on average for loans
from black farmers to be processed while white farmers had their loans
processed in 60 days. These extensive delays often meant the loss of a crop
and/or the loss of black farmland. Lands previous held for generations were
lost in foreclosures and tax sales and often sold to wealthy white farmers or
In lieu of the overwhelming evidence, even former Secretary of Agriculture
Dan Glickman admitted that the history of racism is pervasive and that USDA
has not done enough to end these practices. So when Judge Paul Friedman
signed the Consent Decree between the USDA and the black farmers in April
1999, some believed that the class action suit had in fact succeeded in
getting the federal government to provide some economic redress of the
situation. But that has not come to pass, said Grant.
"The government is using the Consent Decree to put farmers out of business.
They have set up a bureaucratic maze designed to frustrate the farmer and
cause them to give up," Grant insisted.
While some $3 billion was allocated, Grant said that over 40% of farmers who
are making their claim via Track A are getting rejected at the first stage.
"Under Track A, the claimant completes a claim form, which is submitted to an
Adjudicator. The Adjudicator's decision is based on the claim submitted by
the claimant and any information submitted by USDA pertaining to the claim.
This is the more streamlined track and most of the claimants - over 20,000 to
date -- have chosen it," USDA records show.
"Track A was suppose to be the easy step. They told us it would be as easy as
tying your shoe," said Grant. "Yet we are being rejected in significant
numbers. And if you choose to appeal the process it puts you into the same
category as the Track B claimants, where you have to produce a preponderance
of evidence." The net result -- the loss of more black farmers and
"We are just beginning to see this happening because farmers are getting
their rejection notices and when they see the amount of paper work for the
appeal many are saying `forget it, its just not worth it.' Over this four
year process we have lost thousands more farmers," said Grant.
"It is by design and they will continue to do this because their intent is to
do away with us. After a while they will win the waiting game. Most of the
farmers are elderly so they are just waiting for them to give up and go away
or simply die," lamented Grant.
He was quick to warn that even if farmers ultimately get some money the
situation is not over. As Grant pointed out during his Oct. 99 Presentation
to The Subcommittee On Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, And
Forestry, "the two major problems that have hurt black farmers the most are:
1) discrimination on the part of the USDA; and 2) the lack of access to
capital. The Pigford v. Glickman Consent Decree does nothing to address these
too perilous issues. Even the so called $50,000, which USDA and its Civil
Rights Department have convinced the rest of the nation that black farmers
have already gotten, is no where near an amount to put any farmer back into
farming nor remove all the `bad' debt and bad credit gained from this racist
government agency's mess."
Grant said that after all this there has been no firing of agents across the
country who have discriminated against farmers. Farmers are still
encountering racism and discrimination when they go into the local USDA
offices. A farmer in Virginia went into a local office and the agent opened
his desk drawer to show him his gun and told him it was loaded. The agent was
sent home for one day.
"They claim 18 people have been disciplined or terminated. We asked who or
where? We do know that the state director for Mississippi, where there were
the largest number of complaints, was moved to Washington, DC and put into
the department of civil rights," said Grant.
He pointed out that black farmers have been targeted with a new set of
intimidation tactics. The FBI has been doing investigations on farmers who
have received their money and the IRS has been notified that some have
received a settlement when they have not. "All these forms are meant to
harass and demean the black farmers who are trying to recapture a minute
portion of what's been taken away from them," said Grant.
A change in administration has not stalled the agenda of BFAA. On March 29,
2001 Grant and other members attended a briefing sessions at the White House.
They had an opportunity to meet with President Bush and about 12 other
African-American business and political leaders. Grant also presented the
President with a letter that read in part, "Of the approximately 60% of the
farmers admitted to the class, fewer than 10% of those approved for monetary
relief have been granted DEBT FORGIVENESS. USDA employees who discriminated
against Black farmers are being permitted to assess the successful claims for
debt forgiveness. The continued delays of payment and other tactics against
class members threatens more than 1.5 million acres of land to be lost due to
the Consent Decree. We therefore petition you, the Chief Executive Officer of
the united States of America, to require that just compensation be paid
immediately to all African-American farmers party to the Pigford vs Glickman
Consent Decree and that settlement be made expeditiously to those claimants
wrongfully denied settlement pursuant to the terms of the Consent Decree."
While the struggle against bureaucratic racism continues, Grant said that it
is equally important that the black community nationwide gets educated about
the issues of the black farmer. He admits it's an uphill battle. "We have to
find a way to awaken our own people who continue to deny where we have come
from. We don't want to be reminded that we were enslaved and suffered through
Jim Crow. In the denying of all that we have let the land get away from us,"
"When we were Colored and Negro we were much more connected and
self-sustaining. We had grocery stores that sold goods produced by local
black farmers and we supported those stores. Why is it that integration meant
we had to give up our economic power?" queried Grant.
As a report on www.blackonomics.com informed, blacks in urban areas depend on
large supermarket chains for fresh foods yet there are a mere 19 black-owned
supermarkets in this country. And the quality of the foods available in black
communities is suspect at best and the result is we are eating increasingly
poisonous foods while white folks are sustaining themselves with food of a
better quality. You have to have money to get quality food when once it was
just a matter of stepping out your back door to gather food. Today, if you
are interested in your health and wellbeing you have to be willing to spend
the extra money and travel to better facilities usually found in white
communities. "Despite this most of our city cousins don't seem to see the
connection between the struggles of the black farmer and the quality of their
lives," said Grant.
"We believe in the Kwanzaa principle of Kuchichagulia, `self determination,'
because if you don't own land in this nation you are a mere refugee dependent
on the `mercy and goodness' of those who have," said Grant.
For more information about the BFAA and the ongoing fight to preserve black
farmlands call 252-826-3017 or visit the website
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