Photo: Eddie Cotton, 82, Hermanville, MS, clears a field for a fall crop of hay, using a 40-yr-old tractor. He is among thousands of black farmers denied federal loans in past years. “They took away my ability to provide for my family,” he says of the discrimination. ©Robin Nelson/ZUMA
October 29, 2020
To: Trey Baker, Director of African-American Engagement
Subject: The Soul and Survival of Black Farmers and Civil Rights at USDA
The legitimacy of our support for Black farmers continues to be affirmed in the extensive media coverage relative to the inadequacies of the Biden/Harris policies for civil rights and Black farmers within the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). We have become increasingly alarmed that the focus of our original efforts has now turned into a larger battle for the soul and survival of farming in America, as well.
We believe that the Biden/Harris Campaign is relying on Vilsack and Heitkamp, ignoring key information and is on the verge of making decisions that will prove to be devastating to Black farmers and to other small family farmers in this country.
The failed policies of USDA under the Vilsack leadership are now being promoted on behalf of the Biden/Harris Campaign. These pro-corporate policies are facing a withering attack by farmers. The pro-corporate farmer system has failed small and middle-America. This is precisely what our concerns are.
Lloyd Wright’s commentary in a recent international magazine buttresses our opinion: https://fortune.com/2020/10/09/black-farmers-usda-racism-pigford/. We believe that systemic racism undermines policies and programs within USDA and will do so until systemic changes are made in the Department.
An explanation of the Biden/Harris civil rights platform and the critiques of those policies by the USDA Coalition for Minority Employees and others within our group further indict these inadequacies.
Ongoing advocacy efforts are led by many including Tracy Lloyd McCurty, Director, Black Belt Justice Center, and her co-partner, Dekera Greene Rodriquez, who put on full display the egregious actions and harm done by failed civil rights policies toward Black farmers. These assertions are further exposed by a documentary about the injustices to Black farmers pre-Pigford which will be released early November. A book will be released early November by Jillian Hishaw that chronicles America’s history of taking land from American Indians and Black farmer. Also, coming out soon are an investigative report and an Office of Inspector General report about USDA programs.
During our discussions with the Biden/Harris policy team we experienced a disingenuous process which minimized our concerns, labeled our requests on behalf of Black farmers as “unconstitutional,” and, further, your policy team stated that debt relief for Black farmers is something in which the Biden/Harris Campaign was not interested in at this time.
These themes come of the wings of recently revealed and discouraging information. We have been informed that recent USDA data states that 17,000 Black farmers are on the verge of foreclosure. If this number is correct, examining the 2012 Agriculture census data, we know that there are 46,582 Black farm operators and 36,382 Black farms. That means that 36% of Black farm operators are soon to be gone or that 47% of Black farms are soon to be gone. The number of farms, acres, farmers, and inter-generational wealth within the Black rural community is indeed devastating. These are sufficient enough to show the merits of debt relief. And all the while, neither the current administration nor the Biden/Harris Campaign are addressing the magnitude of the issues related to Black farmers and to the debt relief that these farmers were denied as far back as 1999 and the Pigford Class Action Suit.
We have a trail of information. This includes the letter to Joe Biden (May 11, 2020) and the open letter to Biden (September 6, 2020) and to the Biden/Harris Campaign (September 16, 2020).
The article exposing the inadequacies of the Vilsack administration and farmers pushing back on the failed corporate farming strategies is found here: https://prospect.org/power/farmers-reject-bidens-pro-corporate-rural-advisers
This article by Rosenberg and Stucki reveals the five dominant myths and the distortion of data within the USDA under the leadership of Vilsack and Leonard that concealed discrimination against Black farmers: https://thecounter.org/usda-black-farmers-discriminationtom-vilsack-reparations-civil-rights/
The Jackson/Lewis Report commissioned by the USDA in 2011 examined four agencies across an 18-month period, and listed 234 recommendations necessary to “create dramatic change:” https://www.coalition4change.org/USDA%20jackson.pdf
The inequity of subsidies is revealed in this investigative report: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/usda-issued-billions-subsidies-year-black-farmers-are-still-waiting-n1245090
The Politico article about tensions around the Biden/Harris policies and the campaign’s failure to engage Black farmers is found here: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/09/12/biden-black-farmers-rural-voters-412791
Documents which further support the realities of the discrimination of Black farmers are found here: https://acresofancestry.org/; https://www.facebook.com/BlackFarmerJustice1; and https://www.jillianhishaw.com/book-purchase/landtheft/
The Elizabeth Warren Plan is found here as is the Biden/Harris Policy for the sake of comparison: https://elizabethwarren.com/plans/equity-farmers-of-color and https://joebiden.com/racial-economic-equity/#
For an overarching perspective of Black land loss in America, especially at the hands of the USDA, this document is informative: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ajes.12233
It is very clear as to who understands and supports Black farmers in this country. With each passing day, more and more farmers will lose their land to foreclosure based upon the USDA’s racist policies and procedures. Once those farms are foreclosed on, those acres and the wealth of the land will be lost for generations to come…..forever.
Again, we are fighting for the soul and survival of Black farmers.
- Lawrence Lucas
- USDA Coalition of Minority Employees
For more information check out this article: