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Black farmers to Congress: Pay us now!

Stephon Johnson | 4/12/2011, 5:27 p.m.

Last week, John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, made the trek to the nation's capital with over 100 Black farmers. Boyd called on Congress and President Barack Obama to act promptly and vote yes to paying the farmers' discrimination settlement that they're owed.

Joined by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Boyd spoke with the media and said that the powers that be are genuinely working towards a solution that ends with Black farmers getting their money. "I am told that bipartisan efforts continue in good faith. Compromise on offsets is needed to get this done this week," he said last week. "The strong commitment we have from both parties to get this issue resolved this week is evidence that on critical issues, our leaders can still come together."

"The Senate has a moral duty to immediately fund this settlement. No more political games," said Boyd. "The time to act is now."

During a news conference on September 10, Obama voiced his support for the Black farmers' fight and promised to keep the issue on the top of his list. "It is a fair settlement," he said. "It is a just settlement. We think it's important for Congress to fund that settlement. We're going to continue to make it a priority."

Congress enters recess in early October, which is why Boyd is asking for a vote now before politicians focus on their reelection campaigns. "I am calling for a cloture vote on a stand alone Black farmers bill," he said. "Black farmers are dying. In fact, another farmer active in the movement died this past week, and I can't let politicians use other issues as excuses not to vote on justice for Black farmers."

In 1999, the United States Department of Agriculture settled with Black farmers for over $2 billion. It would include $50,000 for each farmer and it would be distributed on top of loan forgiveness and tax assets for some farmers. It was an acknowledgement of government wrongdoing when they cheated Black farmers and denied them loans. In turn, the department put white farmers at the front of the line to receive money for homestead improvements and growing-season wherewithal between 1983 and 1997.

Legally known as Pigford v. Glickman, 400 African-American plaintiffs joined Timothy Pigford in the class-action lawsuit filed in 1997 accusing the USDA of treating Black farmers differently during the "farm ownership" loan, operating loan and price support loan processes. Also, the farmers claimed that the USDA never took the farmers' complaints of discrimination seriously. The USDA claimed that many complaints were not processed because they were not received by their deadlines.

Last May, the USDA offered Latino farmers a similar settlement of $1.33 billion for similar instances of racial discrimination during the loan process. Attorneys representing the farmers told the government agency that the figure was far too low compared to the offer for Black farmers.

In early August, and under the radar of the fake controversy surrounding Shirley Sherrod, the U.S. Senate voted against a supplemental war bill last Wednesday that included funds for the Black farmers' settlement and money for Native American farmers who were victims of racial discrimination.

Conservative opposition to the settlement hit its peak last week after the Shirley Sherrod scandal. It was learned that a farm collective founded by Sherrod and her husband would receive $13 million in settlement money from the case if the Senate voted yes on the supplemental bill.

As previously reported by the AmNews, the USDA's census data in 2007 stated that the average white farmer owns 418 acres of land and makes $134,807 a year. The average Black farmer owns 104 acres of land and makes $21,340 a year. Black farmers also tend to be older than their peers nationally, with an average age of 60.3 compared 57.1 overall. In the early 20th century, Black farmers owned one out of every seven farms. It's now one out of every 100 farms.