By Valencia Mohammed, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –
The U.S. District Court approved a settlement in the ongoing saga between Black farmers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) providing an additional $1.2 billion for housands of plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit.
The Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation, decided Oct. 27 by Judge Paul L. Friedman, was derived from a class action suit initiated in 1997, Pigford v. Glickman, in which African-American farmers (initially James Copeland, Earl Moorer and Marshallene McNeil) joined to allege a pattern of systemic exclusion from USDA grant and lease programs.
It was alleged that USDA discriminated on the basis of race in various federal programs denying Black farmers loans and other benefits that were granted to White farmers. It was noted, when the Black farmers filed complaints to USDA, the allegations were not investigated. In addition, no remedies were sought to correct egregious violations of civil rights laws. USDA’s failure to act deprived countless farmers of credits and payments under various federal programs which resulted in financial and real estate losses.
“This agreement will provide overdue relief and justice to African American farmers, and bring us closer to the ideals of freedom and equality that this country was founded on,” said President Barack Obama at a recent press conference.
The resulting consent decree was soon enlarged to include about 40,000 persons after Congress acknowledged the historical validity of the claims by expanding the statute of limitations. This allowed the litigation to proceed unhindered by the 1981 to 1996 time span.
Uncertainty about who qualified as a “Pigford complainant” persisted as thousands more submitted claims. The number reached 61,252 by 2000, and most of these claims were allowed for consideration after passage of the 2008 Farm Bill. By 2010, about 16,000 complainants received over $1 billion in “direct payments, loan payments, and tax relief.” These direct payments threatened to deplete the $100 million in funds allocated under the Farm Bill to make the remaining qualified complainants whole. Additional relief was sought.
“I am glad to see that this day has finally come. For years, Black farmers have faced discrimination – not only from businesses, but from the very government that was meant to protect them. The U.S. District Court’s approval of the settlement is a major step forward in closing an ugly chapter of USDA’s civil rights history. Not only will this agreement provide overdue relief; but it will provide justice to African American farmers who have been disenfranchised,” said chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, D- Mo.
John W. Boyd Jr., founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association, hailed the ruling granting the motion to certify and approve the settlement in this historic discrimination case.
"Today, because of a Congress that was willing to once again waive the statute of limitations and to appropriate $1.25 billion to help further redress the historic discrimination against African-American farmers, the court is pleased to approve the settlement agreement proposed by the moving plaintiffs, and endorsed by the United States, as fair, reasonable, and adequate."
Boyd added, "Today is an important day, in fact a truly historic day for the nation's Black farmers and for all of those who worked so hard to give every farmer their day in court so they may be compensated for the government's discrimination.”
Boyd reminded the farmers there is still more work to do. “It is also important for the farmers to know that all cases must be adjudicated before the payments go out to the farmers. After all we have been through – justice always finds its way home. I have been praying for this day.
“The settlement isn’t perfect but we’re glad the judge finally resolved the situation. The farmers need their money. But it’s unfortunate it took so long. Many of them have died waiting while this struggle played out.”
Researcher DeRutter Jones contributed additional material to this story.