INSTITUTE INDEX: USDA’s real racism problem


From Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies.

Controversy erupted this week after Shirley Sherrod — a black U.S. Department of Agriculture official in Georgia — was fired after conservative pundits circulated an edited video of her making purportedly racist remarks that in context were not racist at all. But that doesn’t mean racism isn’t a serious problem at the department.

Year in which land ownership peaked for African-Americans: 1910

Number of acres collectively owned by U.S. blacks at that time: 15 million

Number of acres they collectively owned in 1997: 2.4 million

Year in which Congress created the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) to serve as the lender of last resort for all U.S. farmers: 1946

Year in which the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reported that a primary cause of black land loss was USDA discrimination, and that FmHA claims of being the lender of last resort did not apply to blacks: 1982

Year in which the first lawsuit was filed against the federal government on behalf of black farmers: 1990

Year in which advocacy groups organized the first black farmer “Caravan to Washington” to drawn attention to the plight of minority farmers: 1992

Year in which Pigford v. Glickman, another federal lawsuit filed on behalf of black farmers, was granted class-action status: 1998

Year in which a settlement was reached in that suit, with the government admitting discrimination: 1999

Amount of the settlement: $1 billion

Amount each farmer who was party to the settlement received in so-called “automatic” payouts, along with loan forgiveness and tax offsets: $50,000

Number of farmers who sought but were denied compensation: 81,000

Percentage of farmers seeking payment that number represents: 86

Number of appeals processes available to farmers who were denied: 0

Number of hours the USDA spent fighting the black farmers’ claims, according to a 2004 report: 56,000

Money it spent fighting them: $12 million

Date when a second Pigford case, involving black farmers improperly excluded from the first, was settled: 2/2010

Amount of the settlement: $1.25 billion

Amount the plaintiffs originally sought before agreeing to less in order to more quickly get the money to black farmers, many of whom are elderly: $2.5 billion

Original deadline by which Congress was supposed to fund the Pigford II settlement: 3/31/2010

Date on which Congress adjourned for a two-week Easter break without appropriating the money: 3/26/2010

Date on which the U.S. House passed an emergency war and disaster aid bill that included settlement funding: 7/1/2010

Date on which Senate Republicans rejected an unemployment benefits extension bill that included the money over concerns about the national debt: 6/24/2010

Date by which the Senate is expected to vote on a supplemental war funding bill, which includes funding for the Pigford II settlement: 7/23/2010

Number for the Senate switchboard, which the National Black Farmers Association is asking the public to call to express support for keeping the Pigford II funds in the bill: 202-224-3121

Sue Sturgis is an investigative reporter and editorial director of Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies, where this story first appeared.