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Sender: o-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 97 18:56:28 CST
From: bghauk@berlin.infomatch.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Black Farmers Fight Gov't Discrimination
Organization: InfoMatch Internet - Vancouver BC
Article: 3926

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 loans.

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 protest."

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," Boyd said.

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 department itself.

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 Black applicants.

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 them sharecroppers."

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 Washington Post.

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 rights activity.

"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 unemployment pay.

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 Local 454.

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