Black Farmers Betting the Farm in a New Era

Black Farmers Betting the Farm in a New Era


Was it procedural errors, bureaucratic oversight or one man’s crusade mainly for himself but also for his voiceless ancestors and contemporaries?  Opinions vary but history will prove that it’s probably all three.

The case of Pigford v. Glickman, which led to a recent settlement for Black Farmers to receive between $1.15 billion and $1.25 billion in damages, is in 2010 more indicative of government inefficiency than outright discrimination.  That’s at least when one looks at the case based on face value.

But tilling the soil of this case a bit reveals a deep rooted legacy of wronged sharecroppers, field peons and sons of former slaves who were disenfranchised and mistreated.  And who will in sum get less than $50,000 a piece for nearly two centuries of uneven sod from a racial and socioeconomic perspective.

Indeed is the case of Timothy Pigford, the North Carolina settlement is about one black man’s struggle in a time when there was overt institutionalized racism. Timothy Pigford was the original farmer who filed a suit against then Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman.

Hailing from Bladen County, NC, Pigford was directly denied a Federal loan in 1976 to buy a farm. The denial could have been for any number of reasons, even back then. But it’s safe to assume and even presume that things were way different in Bladen County, NC in 1976 than they are now. At any rate since that defeat Pigford’s struggle has ballooned to a state where he is considered by some to be the African-American version of Caesar Chavez, a Mexican-American activist who fought for immigrant farmer rights in California in the 1960s.

The suit, which originated in 1997, almost exactly twenty years after Pigford’s attempt to buy a farm, alleged that African-American Farmers may have been disproportionately denied loans, disaster relief compensation and other due process matters involving paper work that would execute government subsidies, assistance or both.

Unfortunately “Duhhhhhhhhhhhhh” is not a sound legal or moral argument.

Nevertheless, Pigford was later joined by 400 additional African American farmer plaintiffs who may or may not have been directly discriminated against in the way of directly being denied on loans or delayed on getting government assistance.

The case has transcended administrations and is now Pigford v. Vilsack, with Tom Vilsack, the current secretary of agriculture, as the de facto plaintiff.

On the whole the case has transcended eras and time and like the installation of a black president in the White House, will never ever truly rectify the millions of Tim Pigfords who we never and will never be heard from again.

But I guess the logic here, as in all victories large and small, is that you have to start somewhere.