(NNPA) “When will we be paid for the work we’ve done” - The Staples Singers The history of the Black farmer in the United States of America has been a “tough row to hoe.” During the period of slavery Black farmers were considered property by law and thus had no legal rights.
Following the end of the Civil War the question of what to do with confiscated Confederate lands owned by slaveholders was a critical issue for President Abraham Lincoln. While Senators Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens had argued for years to redistribute lands to newly-freed African Americans president Lincoln dispatched Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to discuss the issue with General William Tecumseh Sherman who had just successfully marched federal troops through the south defeating Confederates.
On January 12, 1866 Secretary Stanton, General Sherman, and twenty African American leaders met in Savannah, Georgia and agreed Special Field Order Number 15 or the “40 acres and a mule” order. The Field Order called for the redistribution of over 400,000 acres of land— from Charleston, SC through the Sea Islands of Georgia to Florida—to Black farmers. However, after the Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1877 the government began to renege on its promise of land to Black farmers.
Black farmers have been fighting for justice since the Civil War. In owning their own land Black farmers were empowered while southern Whites were embittered. Many members of the Tea Party are descendents of southern whites whose Confederate land was redistributed by the federal government to African Americans.
By 1920, there were over 1 million Black farmers.
However, many were forced into “sharecropping” arrangements where they worked the land and “settled up” with White landowners at the end of the year.
Predictably, no matter how much they produced Black farmers usually “owed” the landowner money. The discriminatory system of sharecropping lasted well into the 1970’s in some parts of the south. Today are less than 25,000 Black farmers.
Failed government promises and racial discrimination have decimated their numbers.
In 1995, the National Black Farmers Association was founded in Virginia to assist African American farmers retain their land. The Black Farmers Association worked with academic projects such as the Land Lost Prevention Project at North Carolina Central University School of Law to legally advocate on behalf of Black farmers. In 1996, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the United States Department of Agriculture in Pigford v. Glickman or “Pigford 1”.
The lawsuit alleged racial discrimination in the Farm Service Agency’s credit and non-credit programs between 1981 and 1996. Pigford 1 was settled with the agreement that Black farmers would receive payment.
Not until 2008 did the United States Congress appropriate 100 million in the 2008 Farm Bill. As of July 2010 no money had been paid.
This week, however, the United States Senate finally is considering passing with unanimous consent a bill that will finally pay 1.25 Billion dollars to Black farmers. Under the payout “Track A” will provide quick relief of up to $50,000 for credit claims or $30,000 for non-credit claims, plus debt relief and payment of taxes.
The Obama Administration is on the case. Farmers with questions concerning application process should contact the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the United States Department of Agriculture on 202.720.3808. On behalf of all Black farmers who have waited or have died waiting for payment, enough already…pay Black farmers!
Gary Flowers is executive director & CEO of Black Leadership Forum, Inc.