Black US farmers are waiting for billions with promised debt relief


There was a black time The court flourished.

By 1910, only two generations away from slavery, black peasants had amassed more than 16 million acres, accounting for about 14 percent of the peasants. The fruits of their labor have nourished much of America.

Currently its area is less than 4.7 million hectares. Black farming in the United States has fallen from 925,000 to less than 36,000, according to the USDA’s latest agricultural census. And only about one in 100 farmers is black.

What’s happening?

They were able to keep the broken promise of “40 mornings and mules” to the newly released slaves – the military order was later revoked. But over the past century they have faced obstacles again and again because of their breed.

Lenders – headed by the USDA – often refused to give them money and often rushed to foreclosure. They undercut suppliers and customers. Law The collapse of inheritance led to the collapse of houses.

The government is currently trying to compensate colored farmers with billions in debt relief. However, the judge put the money on hold in the face of a lawsuit filed by a white farmer who claimed the program was unfair – reverse discrimination.

The descendants of today’s black farmers and those who have lost their interests claim to have been victims of fraud:

A Virginia farmer who barely managed to keep part of his farm when the USDA threatened to sell him at auction. NS Kansas A man who lost the land his grandparents once built a house on. NS Arkansas A farmer clutching it in a thread and praying for federal aid is coming soon.

It was racism, says farmer John Wesley Boyd Jr. And it still is.

“I think discrimination is still widespread. I think it’s a lot more subtle, ”says Boyd.


Boyd was only 18 when he took out an existing USDA loan when he bought his first farm in the early 1980s. He says stepping into a local USDA office is like going back to the Jim Crow era. The black farmer oversees the account and was only able to get an appointment with a local lender one day a week. This became known as Black Wednesday.

Boyd endured racial abuse. The loan officer once spat tobacco juice on him – he accidentally missed a spit can, officials claim. Another time Boyd saw the officer destroy his application and throw it in the trash.

In 1996 it took the USDA just 30 days to confiscate part of Virginia’s farmland. The department then auctioned the remaining 110 hectares.

Boyd joined other black farmers in a protest in Washington and tied a mule named 40 Acres to the gates of the White House. Less than a week later, then Agriculture Minister Dan Glickman declared a moratorium on farm foreclosure. Boyd had just enough time to save his farm.

According to a document from the USDA’s internal review, investigators found that despite specific instructions from the mayor of a government agency, his business loan application had not been processed for years. He also found that his account was mistakenly labeled overdue by the credit bureau when it was due to be rebuilt, which compounded his financial troubles.

This type of practice led to the approval of a groundbreaking settlement in Pigford v. Glickman litigation filed by black farmers in 1999. The USDA paid more than $ 2.4 billion, but state taxes undermined recovery, debt relief was incomplete, and the settlement didn’t solve the problems of some farmers.

A government attorney said black farmers filed in court between 2006 and 2016 that they were affected by 13% of USDA foreclosures despite receiving less than 3% of direct loans. Rice field.


Hidden in the vast plains of Kansas is a remnant of the once bustling black settlement of Nicodemus. Just a few kilometers from the city there are 200 hectares of land on which the grandparents of Theodore Bernard Bates once built their houses.

A black farmer and his father bought a single family home in 1970 when they received a loan from a manufacturing credit union in Stockton, Kansas.

Bates, one of the former plaintiffs in the Pigford case, said the USDA farm credit agency even refused to apply for it. From the settlement he got “not a cent,” as he says.

In 2012, three years before the death of the former President of Production Credit Union, he swore in an oath that he had plans to “remove Bates from farming”. Elvin D. Keiswetter said the lender’s board of directors decided to “foreclose even if money was lost” instead of taking Bates’ money, whether or not it was paid for in a notebook.

After taking everything, Bates said the family had to go to food stamps to survive.

The USDA was not responsible for all of the black farmers’ misfortunes. Other structural obstacles were also victims. One of these is family land, known as “property of the heirs,” which is given to several relatives who have survived without a will.

Result: Lack of access to money as lenders are generally reluctant to extend loans without express ownership of the land. Congress was approved in the wording of the 2018 Farm Bill to facilitate lending to these farmers. But it wasn’t until this year that the USDA actually funded a $ 67 million heir remittance program to resolve land tenure and inheritance problems.

USDA spokeswoman Kate Waters said the agency was working to eradicate systematic racism and remove barriers to access to services. She says the department plans to set up a warehouse committee later this year to identify and fix the problem.

Meanwhile, in March, Congress approved $ 4 billion debt relief for 16,000 farmers of color under a $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package.

White farmers have filed lawsuits in Florida, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Texas, Wyoming, Illinois, and Minnesota. The program was canceled in June due to a restraining order.

Sid Miller of the Texas Agricultural Commission, who sued as a farmer on a personal basis, argues that debt relief is unconstitutional because it excludes white farmers on the basis of race and ethnicity.

“That’s completely wrong,” said Miller.

However, the minority of farmers still suffers from disproportionality. According to court documents, as of May 31, 11% of white farmers were in arrears with government farm loans, compared with 37.9% of black borrowers, 14.6% of Asian borrowers, and India in the United States. Borrowers were 17.4% and Hispanic borrowers were 68%.

For Abraham Carpenter, a 59-year-old black farmer whose family grows fruits and vegetables near Grady, Arkansas, the injunction states that he will have to wait for a loan of about $ 200,000 and await help. Means

“I’ve had really tough times, but thanks to God’s blessings, mercy, and grace, I’ve always survived …” says Carpenter. “So I’m not saying I’m getting angry. I will do my best and pray a little more. “


Hegemann reported from Belle Plaine, Kansas.

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