Black farmers, landowners take on US Department of Agriculture

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Hundreds of black farmers and landowners met in downtown Columbus to sign a petition that’s headed to Congress.

After one of the largest civil rights settlements in history, one United States agency is accused of withholding payments for over two decades.

From 1865 to the present day, black farmers have been fighting for land, proper compensation, and their rights.

“To compensate people every five or six years does not restore them back on the land.”

Over 20 years ago, Black farmers led a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the basis of racial discrimination.

The farmers claimed to have been denied access to low-interest rates on loans, grant programs, and other federal assistance.

The USDA settled in 1999 and was ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in restitution to black farmers.

Thomas Burrell is the President of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association.

He said that nearly a quarter of a century later, those farmers still haven’t been properly compensated.

“It’s 2023, under the Inflation Act Congress set aside $2.2 billion to compensate black farmers and their heirs for racial discrimination. You gotta remember now, African Americans had acquired over 20 million acres of land by 1920, and 1910. Today, they own less than 5 million acres,” said Burrell.

That land is said to be worth almost $350 billion.

Burrell said the USDA is now complying with the court orders, but people are having to jump through hoops to see any payback.

He said applications to receive money from the Pigford one and two settlements weren’t nearly as unfair as what is being asked of farmers now.

“Individuals are now being able to be compensated, or should be able to be compensated, but they have to fill out a 40-page application. A 40-page application to show that they’re victims of discrimination. In other words: in Pigford, they only had four or five pages. In Pigford 2, you only had four or five pages. Why is it now, you’re going to settle with these same individuals and then require them to fill out forty pages,” said Burrell.

Over 500 black farmers attended the conference to learn how to properly submit that 40-page application.

They also signed a petition headed to Congress, to have the application process altered to a simpler version.

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