Magazine article New African

African-American Farmers in Trouble: Leslie Goffe Reports on the Tribulations of African-American Farmers in 'God's Own Country'. Harlem Is Nowhere. (Diaspora: Blacks in USA)

Magazine article New African

African-American Farmers in Trouble: Leslie Goffe Reports on the Tribulations of African-American Farmers in 'God's Own Country'. Harlem Is Nowhere. (Diaspora: Blacks in USA)

Article excerpt

It is not just in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa that whites and blacks are in conflict over land. In the United States, African-Americans are in a life and death struggle with the American government over the future of black farmers.

A dying breed, African-American farmers are fighting an ugly mixture of discrimination by government agencies designed to help keep farmers in business and falling crop prices. These two forces have conspired to drive black farmers off land that many families have owned since the end of slavery.

There were once almost a million black-run farms from Texas to Tennessee. Now barely 20,000 remain.

"In a few years we are not going to have any land," says Jacob Lipscomb, 67, a cattle and pig farmer in southern Virginia, whose run-down 15-acre farm dares back to slavery. His newly-emancipated great-grandfather was released from bondage in 1865 and given a rocky, all hut useless piece of land as a kind of reparation.

"We are the people that have grubbed, and opened up this farmland", adds Jacob, a tall, hungry looking man, whose story of woe and misery on the land echoes that of most of America's remaining black farmers.

"We are not able to buy land, crops, new animals, or equipment," Jacob complains. "The land is going back to the white man."

Unable to get money from the federal agencies set up to assist America's farmers, Jacob's farm began to falter. He turned to a commercial bank that charged exorbitant interest rates. It was not long before the bank foreclosed on his farmhouse and took a parcel of his land, as well. But he still refuses to leave. He dragged a rusty, three-room trailer home onto his remaining slice of land, where he now lives with 10 long-horn cows, a couple of chicken, two pigs, and his wife, Daisy.

"We are the ones that c[eared all of this land and got these farms going, and now we can't farm ourselves," he says.

Discrimination

Gary Grant, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association says he and other black farmers have been systematically denied federal farm loans, disaster aid, and other assistance routinely made available to white farmers. Grant says measures must be put in place to root out racism in the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) offices across rural America.

"Our loan applications are processed anywhere from 90 to 120 days longer than whites," complains Grant, a North Carolina pig and chicken farmer. "We receive about $21,000 less for the same acreage than a white farmer receives to operate, we get our loans in the summer when our crops ought to be coming our of the ground. We want the suckers who do this, the redneck bigots, our of the way so that we can operate like any other farmer in this country.

And, in what seemed a rare victory, the USDA acknowledged recently that it was guilty of discrimination, and offered to settle a lawsuit brought against it by a group of black farmers.

But, black farmers are not happy. The $375m USDA offer consists of a tax-free cash payment of $50,000 to farmers whose loans were delayed or denied, and the writing-off of debts owed the government. But this package falls far short of the $2 billion that black farmers are demanding. They refused the USDA offer, saying it was too small a price for the suffering they had endured.

But Eva Clayton, an African-American Congresswoman from North Carolina, says the government offer is a step in the right direction, and the farmers would be foolish to refuse it.

"Is it complete? Of course it is not," says the Congresswoman. "Will it give relief to thousands of farmers? Yes, it absolutely will. But it will not make many of these farmers whole, so they have a right to try and make it better. The farmers who are suffering are not only suffering from discrimination. That's the extra burden. They are suffering from a lack of markets, a lack of access to credit. …

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