Black Farmers

Dear White America: A Primer for Understanding Black Farmers, Discrimination, and Land Loss

(Photo by Melina Mara/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Dear White Americans:

Understanding the trauma of land loss for Black farmers is oftentimes beyond our comprehension. It is not normally within our experiences nor scope of understanding. In this brief, bulleted summary, I hope to line out key events and facts about why we are pressing for debt relief and compensation for damages done to Black farmers. As a white senior citizen, I am respectfully asking white America to take off our blinders and see the truth of what it means to farm while Black in America.

  • Black Africans who were primarily agrarian were captured and enslaved oftentimes with the help of warring tribes. 
  • They were stuffed into slave ships sardine-style and brought to the Americas, some 400,000 of them to cities in the United States. This is called the “Middle Passage.” Many died and many wanted to die. 
  • They were herded like animals and then sold on the auction blocks to the highest bidder.
  • They were then taken and introduced oftentimes with violence into the culture of the plantation where they would live out their days or perhaps sold down the road to another enslaver. 
  • Some 835,000 enslaved Africans were later sold into the deep South as slave trading was outlawed by the US Congress in the early 1800s. 
  • Enslavers appropriated the crops they had grown in Africa and used them to enhance their holdings: cotton, corn, okra, rice, and various melons were imported via seeds that the enslaved brought with them.
  • They were owned as property by their enslavers. 
  • As the price of cotton escalated, so did the demand for enslaved people to work the land, and the price for an enslaved worker also escalated. 
  • The planter class with 15 or more enslaved people would be the millionaires or even billionaires of today. 
  • Many Black farmers can trace their family stories back to days of enslavement. 
  • “My DNA is on the land,” or “farming is in my blood,” or “I was born to farm.”
  • At Freedom, once the war was over, all enslaved people were free to move on. Some did and some stayed and worked for their enslavers, and eventually the sharecropping system developed.
  • By 1910, Black Americans had become prodigious land owners. By 1920, 950,000 Black Americans owned approximately 22,000 farms, and they owned 19 million acres. 
  • They had become landowners despite organized lynchings, Black codes, refusals by white land owners to sell the best lands, and they worked against all odds to hold on to their property.
  • In 2017 there were only 35,470 Black-owned farms with 4,673,140 acres. 
  • In 2017, Black producers comprised 1.4% of all 3.4 million producers.
  • This precipitous land loss is explained to a large degree by various acts of discrimination by employees of the USDA in the Family Service Agency at the local county level. 
  • These are facts supported by eleven reports that were developed internally by the USDA or by outside experts who did their research.
  • The USDA employees acted out their racism by ignoring, denying loans, refusing to send them on up the change of command, giving Black farmers too little funding too late in the crop season, and then foreclosing on them when they could not pay their loans off in a timely fashion. While white farmers were being offered disaster relief funds in times of drought or flooding, Black farmers were neither informed nor offered the same assistance. Restructuring of loans, a commonly held practice for farmers and ranchers, was not offered to Black farmers. At times even the checks written by the USDA were held in file folders until the land was foreclosed upon. This only scratches the surface of acts of malfeasance (wrong doings) done by white USDA officials. 
  • Research the Eddie and Dorothy Wise story for verification of these practices. 
  • Complaints began to be filed with the USDA as early as the 1960s, but in 1983, President Reagan dismantled the Office of Civil Rights. Complaints were thrown into trash cans or ignored or misfiled in the filing system of the Office of Civil Rights, per former Ag Sec Espy. 
  • The Office of Civil Rights was reestablished under Lloyd Wright, Director, and Mike Espy, Secretary of the USDA.
  • Between 1997 and 1999, 15 Black farmers settled with the USDA and Department of Justice. These cases had “findings of discrimination” and they were offered debt relief, compensation for pain and suffering, and promises for “priority of services.” Some of these things were not offered as promised.
  • Economists estimate that Black farmers have lost in land and productivity of the land to the tune of $326 billion to upwards of $1 trillion.
  • The Pigford Consent Decree was confirmed in 1999 and 22,551 applied and 15,645  prevailed, but only 371 received debt relief. 
  • Pigford II was later developed but most of the Black farmers received nothing. 
  • All during this time, white farmers received most of the funding for subsidies and other programs, but Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, Asian Americans, and women were denied. Class Action Suits were filed on behalf of each of these groups and eventually settled. 
  • Under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, Congress passed a bill that would address centuries of discrimination, but 12 white farmer class actions suits, along with the Ag Sec slow-walking the process, derailed compensation of debt relief plus 20% for taxes for “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.” 
  • Then, in 2022 Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act which shifted compensation to “distressed” farmers and ranchers, in a “race neutral” manner so as to avoid the courts. The Ag Sec is now providing funds to white farmers but little to nothing for Black farmers. 
  • In the IRA of 2022, funds were also available to farmers who had been discriminated against with a cap of $500,000, a large sum to many of us, but to farmers who have been fighting foreclosure and discrimination since the 1960s, this amount of money is a drop in the bucket. 
  • We know that approximately 3,000 Black farmers are indebted to the tune of $210 million, but the Ag Sec is not doing what the bill promised. 
  • During President Trump’s term, white farmers received 97% of the Coronavirus Relief Funds of CFAP, or $3,398 for white farmers by comparison to $422 for Black farmers. 
  • The first six litigants in the white class action suits which in 2021 claimed “reverse discrimination” benefited greatly. Those first six litigants received $523,996 during a five year period. The counties in which their farms and ranches are located received $1,200,062,666. If 1.4% of the farmers in those counties are Black, and that is likely too high of an estimate, then the lawsuits were not legitimate as under subsidies, coronavirus relief funds, and the failed tax war with China, the white farmers did very well. 
  • One final thought: Black farmers experience significant loss of life and health when discrimination is ongoing and relentless. 
This is only a short, concise list. There is more. Follow this blog and Waymon Hinson, or research the names Stucki and Rosenberg or read the following: 
Here is one painful investigative article. See it here.  $326 billion dollars. Painful. 
The Environmental Working Group has some great research. Check out this link. 
 I have written a couple of things, but this article is the most extensive. Check it out here. 
The documentary, “I’m Just a Layman in Pursuit of Justice:” White Farmers Fight Against USDA, is important for truth-telling. See that link here.    
And, these are the reasons why we Demonstrated in front of the White House. President Biden can instruct his Secretary of Ag, Tom Vilsack, to do right by Black farmers, to implement in an appropriate fashion the debt relief to “distressed” Black borrowers and compensate them for decades of discrimination. 
Wayon Hinson, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and marriage and family therapist, a researcher, and an advocate in matters related to social justice.  He is a gifted storyteller in the search for justice for the oppressed and marginalized people.  To learn more about Dr. Hinson click the button below to visit his blog, “Let Justice Ring.”

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