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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Campaign For Black Legacy Farmers to Reverse Their Economic Suffering

Eddie Slaughter

Eddie Slaughter, an elder farmer from Buena Vista, Georgia, had his social security and disability payments offset for over nine years—amounting to over $41,000.

Nationwide — The Black Farmers’ Appeal: Cancel Pigford Debt Campaign is a grassroots organizing, popular education, and legal advocacy campaign to rectify the injustice(s) of the Pigford v. Glickman class action discrimination lawsuit in 1999. Black farmers tirelessly organized to file a class action lawsuit seeking restorative land justice from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for decades of government-sanctioned racial discrimination in the delivery of loans and farm subsidies to Black farmers. The goal of the lawsuit was to restore Black farmers and their agricultural land base through full debt cancellation, federal and state tax relief, monetary damages for economic harm, priority of services, and access to land.

After the lawsuit, the vast majority of Black farmers were left with crushing debts to USDA, looming foreclosures, and no legal recourse to save their land. The USDA continues to foreclose on Black farmers suffering under unconscionable farm ownership loan debts — debts that were to be canceled. Of the more than $1 billion in damages paid by USDA, only 4.8% went to debt relief. The sticker shock of a $1 billion settlement buried the truth that the $50,000 cash payments meant little for Black farmers who owed multiple times that value. The $50,000 compensation payment was derived through woeful conjecture — Tuskegee Experiment survivors received $37,500; thus, $50,000 was enough for the Black farmer.

Referring to the dire statistics of priority of services in the 2012 Monitor’s Final Report on Good Faith Implementation of the Consent Decree, Lloyd Wright, former Director of the Office of Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, noted the following:

• Only 1 Black farmer received priority consideration for land inventory.
• Only 29 Black farmers received priority consideration for farm ownership loans.
• Only 76 Black farmers received priority consideration for farm operating loans.

The point of the Pigford lawsuit for Black farmers was not the $50,000 cash payments, but keeping their land. Black farmers sought to own their land free and clear of USDA interference. For the Black farmers who had their land stolen through both legal and illegal means, only one farmer, William Miller of Marshallville, Georgia, was given the opportunity to get it back. Back in 1999, the federal inventory of over 1.5 million acres suddenly disappeared when Black farmers inquired about it.

Many Black farmers have been under threat of foreclosure for over twenty years; they fear that their deaths will result in the forcible removal of their loved ones from their family homeplaces because they have seen it happen to others. The USDA continues to offset Black farmers’ social security, disability, and subsidy payments to cover outstanding debts. Eddie Slaughter, an elder farmer from Buena Vista, Georgia, had his social security and disability payments offset for over nine years—amounting to over $41,000.

Over the years, aging Black farmers have delayed USDA foreclosures by filing complaints in federal court pro se — by themselves, without attorney representation. In December 2017, six Black farmers filed a pro se complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in order to enforce the Consent Decree, the settlement in the Pigford case, and to stop USDA foreclosures on their family farms. In 2019, the judge ruled in favor of USDA and dismissed the farmers’ complaint. The farmers appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Black Belt Justice Center is providing pro bono legal representation to the farmers in their federal appeal.

The Black Farmers’ Appeal: Cancel Pigford Debt Coalition is comprised of a non-hierarchical, multigenerational tribe of farmers, attorneys, writers, researchers, heritage quilters, fiber artists, musicians, and creatives using our diverse magic to bring restorative land justice to our Black legacy farmers. The Coalition pursues both legal and extralegal solutions to preserve the Black agricultural land base, exploring innovative collaborations that deepen the linkages of music, culture, ecocultural traditions, and cooperative economy to protect Black land ownership and stewardship, while raising community awareness, collectivism, and action. In Spring 2020, they collaborated with the South Carolina Lowcountry hip hop group, Native Son, to create the anthem for the campaign, “The Land.”

“The Land” is our generation’s love offering to the beautiful struggle to protect 1.5 million acres of Black farmlands from USDA dispossession. The work continues to grow with Native Son with the upcoming release of Restoration: A Concert Film. The film explores southern Black agrarian stories of self-determination, land ownership, and folkwit; amplifies ongoing struggles for land justice in this country including the Black Farmers’ Appeal: Cancel Pigford Debt Campaign; and weaves together live musical performances from Native Son throughout the film.

The legacy of the Pigford lawsuit is the theft of Black farms through usurious debt. Now is the time to rectify this shameful chapter in U.S. history. The Coalition urges the President and Congress to enact emergency legislation that cancels the debt of all Pigford legacy farmers; provides full federal and state tax relief; returns the 1.5 million acres under threat of USDA dispossession back to Black farmers (including farmland in USDA inventory); returns all offsets back to Black farmers; and establishes a $2.5 billion restorative justice fund to regenerate the Black agricultural land base.

For more details, visit AcresofAncestry.org

For press inquiries, contact Tracy Lloyd McCurty, Esq., Executive Director, Black Belt Justice Center and Co-Founder, Acres of Ancestry Initiative/Black Agrarian Fund at tmccurty@blackbeltjustice.org or (202) 486-9857.