Date: Thu, 16 Jan 97 18:56:28 CST
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Black Farmers Fight Gov't Discrimination
Organization: InfoMatch Internet - Vancouver BC
Black Farmers Fight Gov't Discrimination
By Stu Singer, in The Militant, Vol. 61, no. 3
20 January 1997
WASHINGTON, DC - Fifty Black farmers and supporters from
the National Black Farmers Association - coming from
Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia,
Louisiana and Texas - demonstrated in front of the White
House December 12 to protest racist discrimination by the
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The discrimination
has been going on for years and many cases are acknowledged
in USDA reports showing unjust denials and stalling of
loans to Black farmers.
The demonstration received quite a bit of coverage in
the news media and an editorial in the Washington Post
chided the USDA for giving Black farmers "the runaround and
a hard time because of their race." U.S. Secretary of
Agriculture Daniel Glickman met with some of the farmers a
few hours after the demonstration and announced December 18
a temporary halt to foreclosure sales on delinquent farm
In a December 30 interview with the Militant, National
Black Farmers Association president John Boyd said that the
halt in foreclosures is a first step but doesn't go far
enough. "We want to go back to 1968. Everyone with
complaints filed with the USDA since then should be
compensated, not just those facing foreclosure right now.
This moratorium is temporary and leaves out most farmers.
If these cases are not settled in 90 days we'll be back to
Boyd raises chickens on a farm in Baskerville in
southeast Virginia. He says there have been numerous
discrimination cases filed by Black farmers with the USDA
since 1968, without a single case settled.
Since the demonstration outside the White House and the
news media coverage of it, Boyd has received dozens of
phone calls and visits from white farmers facing
foreclosure and wanting to work with the Black farmers. A
December 30 article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports
that according to the Virginia office of the Farm Service
Agency (FSA), 1,001 farm loans in Virginia are delinquent,
29 percent of its 3,444 loans. White farmers hold 87
percent of the delinquent loans and Black farmers 13
percent. Black farmers make up just 3 percent of all
farmers in Virginia.
It's small farmers who face foreclosure
"The white farmers being foreclosed on are the small,
disadvantaged farmers. I haven't talked to any, white or
Black, with a thousand acres who's been foreclosed on,"
The Department of Agriculture, which has 90,000
employees, has been hit by a number of suits charging
widespread racial and sex discrimination within the
Farmers at the demonstration explained that they were
repeatedly denied loans both by private banks and by the
County boards of the USDA. For example, another Baskerville
farmer, Willie Crute, had to wait one year for approval of
a $119,000 USDA loan, while equally qualified white farmers
got approval in two to three months. A USDA investigation
determined that white farmers waited an average of 84 days
for loan decisions while Black farmers had to wait an
average of 222 days, and that 84 percent of white
applicants loans were approved compared to 56 percent of
Two other demonstrators, Andre Richardson from Windell,
North Carolina, and Griffin Todd, Jr. from Zebulon, North
Carolina, pointed out that few Black farmers they know
actually own their land. They said that hard as it is to
get crop loans, it is almost out of the question to get
loans to purchase land. The land they farm is rented or
leased. Government studies show that from 1982 to 1992 the
number of Black farmers dropped by 43 percent from 33,250
to 18,816 - a rate about five times faster than the decline
in numbers of farmers who are white.
Welchel Long, a demonstrator who came from Elbert
County, Georgia, described some of the changes he's seen in
his many decades of farming. "There are two Black farmers
left in the county now. In 1952 there were 324, most of
Long, who taught agriculture in the local Black high
school, tried to help sharecroppers buy their own land in
the 1960s with the rise of the civil rights movement. But
with almost no sources of credit from either local banks or
the federal government, few sharecroppers were able to make
the transition to becoming farmers. Long is the president
of the NAACP in his county. In response to their protests
over the years, "Washington has sent investigators, but all
it did was put me on the shit list," he said.
Today he grows only vegetables, unable to get the loans
necessary for equipment or to plant more profitable cash
crops. Long participated in the demonstration along with
his son Tim. Tim Long said that when he got out of high
school he tried to get a loan to buy some land but was
turned down while equally qualified whites were approved.
Long history of discrimination
Tim Pigford lost his 350-acre farm and his home in
Riegelwood, North Carolina, last year in a foreclosure
after the USDA denied him a loan. "That's why they call the
Department of Agriculture the last plantation," he told the
Pigford told the Militant that he had been the head of
the Black Students Association at the University of North
Carolina in Wilmington in 1968 and had been active in civil
"We want the USDA to settle all the discrimination
complaints in the farm program and employment," he said.
"We never got the 40 acres and a mule" - the land reform
proposed by some Radical Republicans after the Civil War to
distribute some of the slave holders land among the freed
slaves. "The government never wanted Afro-Americans as land
owners," Pigford explained.
Gary Grant and Doris Davis came to the demonstration
from Tillery, North Carolina. Grant's family got land in
Tillery in the 1940s through a New Deal program for
landless rural people. A fact sheet distributed by Grant
describes the discrimination against the Black families
involved in what was called the Tillery Resettlement
community from the very beginning. "African American
farmers were given the opportunity to buy land in the flood
plain of the Roanoke River, while whites had land made
available to them out of the river's reach," it stated.
After 20 years of fighting foreclosure proceedings by
the Farmer's Home Administration (FmHA), the home and farm
of Gary Grant's brother Richard were auctioned off on the
steps of the Halifax, North Carolina, court house.
Shirley Cofield, Lesie Joyner, and Lola Williams were
also part of the demonstration. Cofield and Joyner, both
from farm families, worked at the Purdue chicken processing
plant in Lewiston, North Carolina and were both fired after
contracting carpal tunnel syndrome. "Purdue preys on people
pushed off farms," Cofield explained.
She worked at Purdue 14 years and was making $6.95 an
hour when she was fired. She hasn't been able to find
another job because of her injuries and has been denied
The women have all been involved in trying to win
recognition for the United Food and Commercial Workers
union at the Purdue plant. The union has lost two
representation elections so far but they hope to get
another election soon.
Williams, who works with the Center for Women's Economic
Alternatives in Ahoskie, North Carolina, explained that
eastern North Carolina is one of the poorest regions in the
country. She pointed out that the same FmHA that foreclosed
on the Grant family farm had loaned Purdue $4 million to
open their plant.
Charles Wright, a retired railroad brakeman and United
Transportation Union member who lives near Washington
joined his brother Harold, a farmer from Bladensburg, North
Carolina, at the demonstration. Harold grows tobacco, corn
and soybeans on his farm near Wilmington.
Many of the loans the Black farmers had applied for that
were denied or stalled were to set up the chicken growing
operations to tie in with the expansion of poultry
processing by Purdue and other companies.
For more information call John Boyd, president of the
National Black Farmers Association at 804-447-7825.
Stu Singer is a brakeman on Conrail and a member of UTU
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