Black Farmers United: The Struggle against Power and Principalities
Grant, Gary R., Wood, Spencer D., Wright, Willie J., The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)
Since their emancipation Black farmers have fought to become economically independent and for the right to self-determine the paths of their lives. Land acquisition has been central to this struggle. Impressively, by 1920 Black farmers neared the one million mark and owned roughly 15 million acres of farmland. Yet, in subsequent years their numbers declined at an alarming rate, approaching 50 percent nearly every 10 years during the second half of the Century. Arguably the most united attempt to rectify the racially motivated decline of Black farmers and the loss of Black-owned farmland across America has been the collective support of the classaction lawsuit Timothy Pigford et al., v. Dan Glickman, Secretary, United States Department of Agriculture in 1996.
Based on firsthand accounts, primary documents and existing literature, this essay situates an historical recounting of the Pigford case from its historical and grassroots beginnings to the recent signing of Pigford II and the racially and politically motivated accusations against Shirley Sherrod within a theoretical framework of institutional racism. Furthermore, it illustrates that the problems faced by Black farmers are deeply racial, particularly given the unfortunate racist legacy of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). In our conclusion, we acknowledge factors to deter the growth of young Black farmers in America and highlight those innovative urban and rural farm initiatives that are actively working to redress the decline of the Black agriculture and the agrarian knowledge it holds.
Since Emancipation, Black farmers in America have fought continuously to acquire selfdetermination of their lives and that of their families via the attainment, retention, and cultivation of farmland. Impressively, by 1920 Black farmers neared the one million mark and owned nearly 15 million acres (Gilbert, Wood, and Sharp 2002; Wood and Gilbert 2000). Yet, in subsequent years as these farmers endured numerous economic and racialized obstacles including untimely delivery of operating loans, insufficient information about program availability, and racist treatment in many county USDA offices, their number has declined at a rate nearly three times that of White farmers (US Commission on Civil Rights 1982; Wood and Gilbert 2000). Importantly, Black-owned farmland has declined by over 50 percent since around 1910 (Gilbert, Wood, and Sharp 2002).
Arguably the most cohesive attempt to alleviate the racially motivated barriers that have contributed to the rapid decline of Black farmers and Black-owned farmland across America came during the class-action lawsuit Timothy Pigford et al., v Dan Glickman, Civil Action No. 97-1978 (1997). Better known as Pigford, this class-action lawsuit was the result of the collaborative grassroots efforts of farmers, their families, legal teams, and social justice organizations. Collectively, they advocated for the return of land to African-American farmers. Ultimately these farmers prevailed by forcing what was then the largest class-action civil rights settlement in the history of the country. However, despite their legal success, most Black farmers and farm advocacy groups feel that in general, Black farmers received insufficient financial restitution for the discrimination inflicted by agents of the USDA's Farmers Home Administration (FmHA), now known as the Farm Service Agency (FSA), and the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC).
This essay examines the organization of and advocacy for African-American farmers beginning with support for Pigford in 1997 (Pigford I) up until the passage of Senate Bill 3838 (Pigford II), which allows for the allotment of $1.15 billion to those farmers who could prove their claims of discrimination. Additionally, we review the immediate and long-term implications of this legislation for Black farmers and landowners. Next, we identify barriers that …
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Publication information: Article title: Black Farmers United: The Struggle against Power and Principalities. Contributors: Grant, Gary R. - Author, Wood, Spencer D. - Author, Wright, Willie J. - Author. Journal title: The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online). Volume: 5. Issue: 1 Publication date: March 2012. Page number: 3+. © Itabari Zulu Dec 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.