what has been described as the largest civil rights settlement
in American history, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved
a bill on Nov. 19 and the House approved the bill on Dec.
1 that will provide $1.15 billion in compensation to black
farmers and landowners who had suffered discrimination for
the past three decades.
was the second part of a settlement aimed to compensate
black farmers who had suffered structural discrimination
in farm loans and other services of the U.S. Department
of Agriculture, through their county committees. In Pigford
v. Glickman (North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford and Dan
Glickman, secretary of agriculture in the Clinton Administration),
the farmers in the class action suit were entitled to up
to $50,000 each, but tens of thousands were left out of
the claim because of missed filing deadlines and other problems.
second, Nov. 19, settlement - Pigford II - provided for
additional claims, but many believe that there were others
who lost their farms or land and were not included and will
never be compensated.
in the bill for Pigford II was more than $3 billion to settle
claims by American Indians against the U.S. Interior Department
for its “mismanagement” of Indian trust funds. Whether it
was just mismanagement, corruption, or plain theft is not
known. Much of that money just disappeared and there was
no way to account for it.
Pigford II legislation was not without its critics. One
of the more outspoken was Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who claimed
that the settlement amounted to slavery “reparations” for
black farmers and landowners. His position was to limit
the settlement to $100 million. Also, he charged that 75
percent of the claims were fraudulent - he made the claim
without any supporting evidence.
USDA, however, said that of the thousands of claims, only
three were referred to the FBI for investigation. It appears
that King made some assumptions, and then made his unsubstantiated
the settlement has brought the likes of King out of the
woodwork (the House vote was 256-152 and most opponents
were Republicans. The action of Congress is an indication
that most legislators want to see an end to the very internationally
embarrassing discrimination and racism issue.
many black farmers and landowners were left out of both
settlements for a variety of reasons, the settlement is
a victory for those who suffered discrimination throughout
their lives. It physically sickened farmers who had to worry
constantly about whether their loans for seed, fertilizer,
and equipment would come through on time for another season’s
crops. The stress likely killed many of them.
one hasn’t experienced this kind of constant abuse in front
of one’s family, friends, and community, it would be impossible
to understand the relief that the settlement brings. It
brings a sense of justice because it does bring a measure
of equity to the plaintiffs.
settlement is about dignity and an official admission that
wrong was done and harm came to so many black farmers and
landowners. Many of the farmers who were discriminated against
did not live to see the day that the government would admit
unjust and illegal behavior over decades and provide small
compensation for it.
Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association,
said at the time of the Senate vote that he has been working
on this issue and fighting for black farm families for 26
years. Gary Grant, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists
Association, has been carrying on the same fight for a similar
father, Matthew, and his mother, Florenza, never lived to
see the victory in the congressional votes. A few decades
ago, after he had started his fight to save his farm in
Tillery, N.C., he said, one of the local county committee
representatives said to him, “Matthew, I don’t care who
you bring in here, we’re going to foreclose you.” They wanted
him off his 300-plus-acre farm.
Grant family carried on the fight of Matthew and Florenza.
Today, they continue the struggle to keep the farm, believing,
as Gary Grant said a number of years ago, “A landless people
is a powerless people.” For him, as for so many others,
it was about more than just raising a crop and getting a
few dollars in the marketplace.
the farms and farmland was about creating community, one
in which people take care of each other and see to each
other’s needs on a personal basis. Ultimately, that has
to do with having the substance to do that and that means
land. In the rural areas, wealth is not necessarily measured
in dollars. There, the land is wealth, and everything
comes from the land.
if the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (overwhelmingly)
white county committees had been further allowed to do their
part in wresting the land from black farmers, there would
be a lot less black-owned land across the South and in America,
in general. As it is, there is but a mere fraction of black-owned
farmland and farms in 2010, compared with the acreage and
number of black-owned farms in 1920.
struggling farmers paid the price of Jim Crow - America’s apartheid - more than most others. The
depth of their love of their land and their way of life
and the lives of their fellow farmers and friends resulted
in the absolute refusal to be driven from the land and it
gave them the will to fight such a long and hard battle
to survive and prevail.
opponents of the settlement, as little as it was for the
massive damages that had been done to so many over decades,
are not going to go away. Rep. King was joined in his opposition
to the settlement by Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., and
they make quite a pair. She is a leader of the Tea Party
movement in the GOP and has spoken rather freely about revolution
and insurrection. In the past, apparently after realizing
that her calls were rather intemperate, she has pulled back
a bit and said that she merely meant rebellion against her
party or against congressional actions.
make no mistake, Bachmann and King are just a few who would
make black farmers and their families wait another 30 years
for justice, if it ever came. King said recently that he
would support reinstitution of an internal security committee,
along the lines of the House Un-American Activities Committee
of the 1950s. It is the committee that Senator Joe McCarthy
rode to notoriety and to a Senate censure, which he did
not survive by too many years. The wild claims opponents
made about the Pigford and Indian compensation legislation
include that it was “an Obama-inspired” move to redistribute
wealth. Never mind that Obama was a boy when this struggle
for justice began.
another great concern of Rep. King that he has said needs
to be addressed: the Marxian move toward equitable distribution
of the nation’s wealth. There are lots of people in the
country who agree, regardless of the facts to the contrary
or just simple justice. They claim that these offenses against
black farmers happened in the past and, therefore, they
should be forgotten. Apparently, they want America
to be what it was “back then,” when there were few protections
for working people and Indians and African-American farmers.
They would go back further, to a time when humans could
that’s what King, Bachmann, and their cohort mean when they
say they want to “take back America.”
Editorial Board member Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of
the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Click here
to contact Mr. Bloice.