Author: Aris Folley Published: 3/5/2021 National Association of Black Farmers
John Boyd Jr., the president of the National Black Farmers Association, called on Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to apologize for comments he made recently taking aim at a provision in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that seeks to help socially disadvantaged Black farmers and farmers of color.
During an appearance on MSNBC’s “PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton” on Sunday, Boyd, who has long been an advocate in Washington for Black farmers, criticized Graham for comments balking at the provision’s inclusion in the coronavirus relief bill despite, in Boyd’s words, having “never once used his megaphone to speak out against the discrimination” Black farmers have long faced.
“I lobbied Sen. Lindsey Graham as a congressman. I lobbied him as a senator. I’ve been by his office and asked him to help me fix the problems at the United States Department of Agriculture that caused Black farmers to lose millions of acres of land and address the lack of loans and subsidies, and he’s never once used his megaphone to speak out against the discrimination,” he said.
“But as soon as we get justice here, some 30 years later, his very first words — he said he found it troubling, and in his last part of his statement, he said that we need to check them,” he said.
The Hill has reached out to Graham’s office for comment.
Boyd was referring to comments Graham made in an appearance on Fox News last week about the provision, which seeks to establish a $5 billion fund for debt repayment aimed at helping disadvantaged farmers.
Graham said during the appearance that he was “really” bothered by the provision’s inclusion in the coronavirus bill, blasting it as part of a Democratic “wish list.”
“Let me give you an example of something that really bothers me. In this bill, if you’re a farmer, your loan will be forgiven up to 120 percent of your loan … if you’re socially disadvantaged, if you’re African American, some other minority. But if you’re [a] white person, if you’re a white woman, no forgiveness. That’s reparations. What does that have to do with COVID?” he said.
Due to years of racial discrimination, Black farmers are more likely to have more debt, less land and less access to credit. According to estimates from the Farm Bureau, Black farmers account for roughly a fourth disadvantaged farms that would be eligible for loan relief under the fund program.
However, the provision does not include language that bars white farmers from applying for the benefits.
In his appearance on MSNBC on Sunday, Boyd said the measure “rectifies a wrong for Black and other farmers of color” who have been “shut out of the U.S. farm subsidy program, U.S. farm lending at the United States Department of Agriculture,” among other programs.
He went on to label Graham’s comments as “racist” and said his organization is calling for the senator to issue an apology.
“The National Black Farmers Association is calling for him to apologize. … He needs to apologize not only to our Black farmers but to Black people in this country who struggled for so very, very long, and now we get a chance for a little bit of justice, and he uses his megaphone to play this race type thing when he knows that firsthand that Black farmers have suffered,” he said.
“He has 6,000 Black farmers in his state, and he won’t help us, but he uses his megaphone to try to deny payments from Black farmers,” he added.
During the interview, Boyd also put pressure on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to “immediately” get debt relief out to “the thousands of Black farmers that desperately need it right now.”
“I spoke to Secretary Vilsack yesterday and urged him to hurry up and put in place the commission and to get the debt relief to not just Black farmers but farmers of color, Native American farmers, Hispanic farmers and other socially disadvantaged farmers. He can’t be the same Secretary Vilsack he was under the Obama years. He’s going to have to take a more aggressive approach to help fix the discriminating culture,” he added.
Black Farmers May Finally Get the Help They Deserve
A debt-relief program would be a step in repairing more than a century of discrimination by the Department of Agriculture.
By Mark Bittman Mr. Bittman, a former food columnist for The Times, is the author, most recently, of “Animal, Vegetable, Junk.”
March 4, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET
Many white people have become aware in the last year of the discrimination that Black Americans face in policing, voting, health care and more. Few, however, may recognize that systemic racism led to another grave injustice, one that underpins many other forms of exploitation: More than a century of land theft and the exclusion of Black people from government agricultural programs have denied many descendants of enslaved people livelihoods as independent, landowning farmers.
African-American labor built much of this country’s agriculture, a prime source of the nation’s early wealth. In the years since the end of slavery, Black Americans have been largely left out of federal land giveaways, loans and farm improvement programs. They have been driven off their farms through a combination of terror and mistreatment by the federal government, resulting in debt, foreclosures and impoverishment.
So a program that would pay off United States Department of Agriculture-guaranteed and direct farm loans and associated tax liabilities of Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and other farmers of color would not only be surprising, it would be historic. And yet it looks as though that may happen: Such a measure is included in the pandemic relief package wending its way through Congress.
The story of Black farmers is tragic. The Homestead Act of 1862 initiated the biggest land giveaway in U.S. history, and the beneficiaries were almost exclusively white men. Paired with slavery, the act formed a foundation for wealth-building that overwhelmingly benefited white farmers — and still does.
In the last 100 years, the number of Black-run farms has plummeted by a calamitous 96 percent, from close to a million (one in seven) of all American farms to around 35,000 (or about one in 50). The beneficiaries of that Black land loss? White farmers. By 1999, 98 percent of all agricultural land was owned by white people.
This trend has been spurred by exclusion from the federal programs that help make farming profitable and by well-documented racism at the U.S.D.A. The department’s discrimination has reached down to local loan officers, who often determine access to credit and therefore survival. Black farmers understandably have called the U.S.D.A “the last plantation.”
The actual scope of the discrimination may be unknown. So many injustices have been hidden that few in the field trust the U.S.D.A.’s version of the story. We do know, according to the most recent agriculture census, that Black farmers receive about $59 million in government payments; white farmers receive about $9 billion. Per capita, that’s $1,208 for Black farmers and $2,707 for white farmers.
As early as the 1940s, U.S.D.A. economists documented “deplorable economic conditions facing African-Americans in the rural South,” but Southern congressmen (including the namesake of a U.S.D.A. building, Jamie Whitten) blocked efforts to help Black farmers. By 1965, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that the U.S.D.A. discriminated against Black farmers. In 1999 and 2010, the government announced settlement agreements for billions of dollars in cash and debt relief and tax payments to Black farmers.
Yet the payments fell far short, the department continued to discriminate, and the erosion in the number of Black farms — and the near impossibility for Black, Indigenous people and other people of color to get into farming — endured.
This historical pattern explains the collective moan when Tom Vilsack — a disappointment to Black (and many other) farmers and their supporters during his tenure as secretary of agriculture in the Obama administration — was nominated for the cabinet post again. But he seems to be responding positively to the shifting political climate and the general tone of the Biden administration, as the imperative for redressing insults and injuries to Black farmers is driving developments quickly.
It started in the run-up to the election, when an informal working group of leaders of the Black farming community helped presidential candidates develop policy.
After the election, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey introduced the wide-ranging Justice for Black Farmers Act. The bill, which was reintroduced in February, would have paid off the U.S.D.A. debt of some Black farmers, and extends to Black farmers more of the benefits of the Homestead and Land-Grant College Acts of 1862. Those acts distributed land and funded public colleges focusing on agriculture, but by default they were programs for whites only, who were understood to be the “farmers” of the time.
Now a confluence of events — the newly Democratic Senate, perhaps even a newly responsive Mr. Vilsack, whose detractors wasted little time scorching his feet — is bringing about the much-needed change.