The government sector systematically denied black famers access to wealth building programs.
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The federal government incentivized farmers to produce less by providing rental and other benefit payments to those who withdrew acreage from cultivation. However, the lack of outreach to tenant farmers—with little regard for their rights under the AAA—coupled with higher levels of illiteracy among black tenant farmers, led to black tenant farmers being exploited in huge numbers by white landowners. A group of black sharecroppers led by Rev. Owen Whitfield protested these unfair practices in the Missouri Sharecroppers Strike.
Eventually, students from Lincoln University, a historically black college, raised enough funds to help the protestors buy a parcel of land named Cropperville. This protest, and the fact that these black farmers could not depend on the government for help, demonstrate the failure of the USDA—and the U. S government at large—to protect black farmers from discrimination.
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Discriminatory treatment of black farmers in the New Deal era and beyond reinforced the economic and social inequality of the Jim Crow South. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration granted a disproportionate amount of funds to white farmers, leaving black farmers vulnerable. In Greene County, blacks received 20 percent less direct relief than whites, even though the average rural white family earned twice as much as a black family. The number of black farmers in the South decreased 8 percent from to , while the number of white farmers increased by 11 percent. Thus, government workers and actions helped maintain the pre-Civil War social hierarchy of the South.
The Farm Security Administration FSA , established in , was another New Deal program that further exacerbated income inequality between black and white farmers. County FSA committees allocated loan and grant funds in a discriminatory manner. The standard rural rehabilitation program was created to serve high-risk farmers. In , blacks in the South received 23 percent of the allocated standard rehabilitation loans but made up 37 percent of all low-income farmers in the South.
In , blacks were 35 percent of tenant farmers in the South but only received 21 percent of tenant-purchase loans. This type of discrimination continued during most of the 20th century. Discriminatory county supervisors consistently excluded black farmers from many of the USDA programs meant to assist low-income farmers.
Avoidable foreclosures and loss of property have damaged credit scores and ruined the lives of black farmers and their descendants, all while USDA programs have helped lift white farmers out of poverty. In , just a year after a U.
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In , President Bill Clinton reopened the office, but the damage had been done. By , blacks made up less than 1 percent of all farm operators, down from 1. Although the history of discrimination within the USDA has been well-documented by government-sponsored reports since , 37 real action to address the problem did not begin until , when Timothy Pigford filed a class action lawsuit— Pigford v. Glickman —on behalf of black farmers, alleging that the USDA discriminated against black farmers from to However, several issues involving communication and missed deadlines created concern that the settlement process was unfair.
President Barack Obama signed the Claims Resolution Act of , which provided the necessary appropriations, after it made its way through Congress. Decades of vigorous organizing by black farmers and their communities won key legislative victories and reforms within the USDA. Notably, the Farm Bill signaled a key legislative victory, empowering the secretary of agriculture to appoint underrepresented farmers to local Farm Service Agency committees.
By ensuring that the first line of support for farmers better reflects the makeup of the population it serves, the USDA began to mitigate the discrimination occurring at the local level. A provision in the farm bill, introduced by Sen. Although these victories represent a step forward, cases of discrimination by public and private actors still exist.
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For example, the Provost family, black cane farmers based in Louisiana, said they suffered discrimination, fraud, vandalism, and retaliation after they filed a lawsuit against First Guaranty Bank on September 21, The Provosts allege that the bank and the USDA denied them necessary crop loans to maintain their sugarcane farm and as a result, they were forced into foreclosure. The lawsuit is still ongoing. Even post- Pigford , black farmers such as the Provosts need more protections against discrimination.
During George W. The USDA reviewed the bulk of the complaints made during the Bush years and found that about 3, of them had merit. Progressive efforts, such as those taken under the Obama administration, to address past discrimination and level the playing field for black farmers are turning the tide. Even as the total number of American farms has decreased, black farmers have experienced a resurgence.
Only sustained federal, state, and local commitment to black farmers will ensure that black farms are preserved, that beginning farmers of color have access to affordable land and technical assistance, and that USDA programs are implemented equitably. A long history of racism and discrimination has built a legacy of distrust between black communities and the U. S government in general—and for the U. Department of Agriculture specifically.
The discriminatory implementation of farm policy over previous decades has meant lasting negative economic implications for black farmers, particularly those living in the rural South. The USDA plays a pivotal role in rural America, including administering a wide range of rural economic development programs that go beyond farming.
Therefore, it is imperative that the USDA at the local, state, and federal levels prioritize policies that help beginning farmers and famers of color.
The state of the racial wealth divide
Unfortunately, the Trump administration has demonstrated indifference to both civil rights and family farms. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue selected her for deputy assistant secretary for civil rights, which is not a Senate-confirmed position. While progressive policymakers have made strides in addressing past discrimination against black farmers and the loss of land and wealth that resulted from it, only continuing commitment will make a lasting difference.
Below are four strategies that federal lawmakers can employ in developing progressive policies to preserve and build the wealth of black farmers and their families. These policies would not only help black farmers but also help farmers of color more broadly, and they can ensure that the U. The most pressing policy priority for lawmakers should be the restoration and preservation of black-owned land.
This is what reparations could actually look like in America
Given the aging demographics of farmers broadly, 70 percent of farmland will be sold or transferred in about 20 years. The federal government need not wait for the courts to direct it to pay settlements to black farm families who have lost their legacy and way of life due to discrimination. Congress should create a progressive land trust that buys land from farmers looking to retire and set it aside for beginning farmers of color, who could purchase the land at a subsidized rate. There is some comfort, I think, in attributing the sheer brutality of slavery to dumb racism. We imagine pain being inflicted somewhat at random, doled out by the stereotypical white overseer, free but poor.
Punishments were authorized by the higher-ups. It was not so much the rage of the poor white Southerner but the greed of the rich white planter that drove the lash. The violence was neither arbitrary nor gratuitous. Falling short of that quota could get you beaten, but overshooting your target could bring misery the next day, because the master might respond by raising your picking rate.
Profits from heightened productivity were harnessed through the anguish of the enslaved. This was why the fastest cotton pickers were often whipped the most. It was why punishments rose and fell with global market fluctuations. Slavery did supplement white workers with what W. But this, too, served the interests of money. Both in the cities and countryside, employers had access to a large and flexible labor pool made up of enslaved and free people.
Labor power had little chance when the bosses could choose between buying people, renting them, contracting indentured servants, taking on apprentices or hiring children and prisoners. Witnessing the horrors of slavery drilled into poor white workers that things could be worse.choocasbore.tk