In 1920, black Americans made up 14 percent of all farmers in the nation, and they owned and worked 15 million acres of land. Today, battling the onslaught of globalization, changing technology, an aging workforce, racist lending policies, and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture, black farmers account for less than 1 percent of the nation’s farmers and cultivate fewer than 3 million acres of land. Experts predict that within the next ten years, black-owned family farms will all but cease to exist. Inside these statistics is a staggering story of human loss that led photographer John Francis Ficara on a four-year journey across America to document and preserve the struggles of black farmers. The result of this journey is Black Farmers in America, a collection of 110 photographs skillfully reproduced in duotone that captures poignant images of hardship, survival, and a people’s bond to the soil at the end of the twentieth century. From the myth of “forty acres and a mule” to the multi-million-dollar USDA settlement in 1999, Williams explores America’s ongoing struggle with racism and its economic consequences for black farmers. The hardships and joys of daily life on the farm echo deeply in these images. They convey a dignity of work and culture, and they document the experiences of black farmers for future generations. Today’s black farmers are beginning to see victories in struggles they have been battling for years.
Special to The Key Newsjournal from the AFRO-American Newspapers
The Senate cleared a $1.15 billion appropriations measure last week to settle a decades-old discrimination suit by Black farmers, paving the way for one of the largest civil rights settlements in history, if the bill clears the House.
The nation’s Black farmers were awarded the money as part of a larger $4.6 billion dollar settlement awarded to them and Native American farmers.
The action stems from the settlement of Pigford v. Glickman, a class-action lawsuit named after Timothy Pigford, a Black farmer from North Carolina. Pigford’s suit claimed that Black farmers received little or no U.S. Department of Agriculture support in the form of loans and grants compared to their White counterparts. The case, which began in 1997, saw a settlement reached in 1999 that stated qualified farmers could receive $50,000 to settle claims of racial bias.
However, many farmers missed the filing deadline to receive payment. A settlement reached last February allowed those farmers to resume pursuit of their claims.
“The passage of this bill is long overdue,” said John Boyd, head of the National Black Farmers Association, in a statement.
“Black farmers have already died at the plow waiting for justice,” Boyd told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “I hope the ones who are living will see justice. The amount of money will not put farmers back into business”.
The appropriations bill was stalled in the Senate for months while Democrats and Republicans fought over how to pay for the settlement. The stalemate was broken during the first week of the lame duck session of the 111th Congress when Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, dropped an objection to the package, after Senate leaders agreed not to finance it through additional deficit spending.
The matter now goes to the House where even more recalcitrance is expected from lawmakers who contend that the settlement adds to what they consider excessive spending at a time of federal budget deficits.
According to the USA Today, the settlement will be paid for from a surplus in nutrition programs for women and children and by extending customs user fees.
President Barack Obama praised the Senate for ending that chamber’s refusal to clear the settlement. In a statement, he expressed hope that the House would follow in the Senate’s footsteps and pass the bill as well.
“I applaud the Senate for passing the Claims Settlement Act of 2010, which will at long last provide funding for the agreements reached in the Pigford II lawsuit, brought by African American farmers, and the Cobell lawsuit, brought by Native Americans over the management of Indian trust accounts and resources,” Obama said.
“I urge the House to move forward with this legislation as they did earlier this year, and I look forward to signing it into law,” he continued.
The legislation also included an extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and settlements for Native American water rights.