Recent Lawsuit Alleges that Black Farmers Continue To Be Discriminated by the Federal Government
By Kirk T. Schroder, Ellwood Thompson’s Food Advocate
The unequal administration of government farm support programs, crucial to protecting farmers from an inherently risky enterprise, has had a profound impact on rural communities of color.
According to a 1982 U.S. Commission of Civil Rights report, the ongoing effects of such discrimination virtually eliminated black farms. This discrimination ranged from denying black farmers access to: wealth building programs afforded to white farmers; inequitable and inadequate access to lending programs; price stabilization and subsidy programs; emergency relief programs and creating discriminatory delays in loan and other farm policy programs that either forced black farmers out of business or allowed them to be exploited by white landowners. An investigative report by The New Food Economy documents how this discrimination has continued through even through the Obama administration. The report documents how the Obama administration allegedly distorted government data to make it appear as if it was improving matters for black farmers.
In 1997, Timothy Pigford filed a class action suit on behalf of black farmers against the USDA seeking damages and reparations for years of discrimination. The historic case Pigford v. Glickman resulted in what became the largest civil rights settlement in history. The federal government, through a court consent decree known as Pigford I, provided approximately $1.06 billion in cash relief, estimated tax payments, and debt relief to prevailing black farmer claimants. However, an investigation by Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the National Black Farmers' Association (NBFA) found that the USDA willfully obstructed this landmark civil rights settlement by deliberately undermining black farmers’ ability to access its benefits. That investigative report found that nearly 9 in 10 African American farmers who applied for compensation were unjustly denied it. The Bush administration spent $12 million contesting the Pigford I claims. The Obama administration settled the litigation over the Pigford I claims by agreeing to $1.25 billion in additional relief for those who were denied their justice to the original settlement. This second settlement is commonly referred to as Pigford II.
Now comes 2019. Earlier this month, The Cowtown Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of black farmers for discrimination in denying loans to black farmers. In a public statement, Corey Lea, the executive director of Cowtown Foundation asserted:
The agency [USDA] wants corporate farms to take over the food chain in the United States.
Not only are black farmers affected by large agribusiness and corporate farming interests, but, as evidenced by the allegations in this recent lawsuit, all small farmers are adversely affected. It appears that the powerful lobbyist interests of large agribusiness and corporate farming continue to be the priority at the USDA. As the Cowtown Foundation litigation unfolds, this Food Advocate blog will update readers.