Pigford v. Glickman
Hearings for Farmers Help Right A Wrong (click for pdf) Cincinnati Enquirer
Sunday, March 6, 2005
The Underground Railroad Freedom Center last week provided an appropriate setting for the third in a series of civil rights hearings by Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the
Thousands of black farmers say they were left out of a landmark 1999 civil rights case stemming from years of being denied farm loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Without loans, many farmers faced foreclosure or lost their farms. In 1920, an African-American owned one in seven farms. Today, that number is one in 100.
ATTENTION: Re: Financial Compensation through Pigford:
The national office of BFAA in Tillery, NC continues to get approximately ten to thirty calls a day regarding the misinformation being distributed by the Tennessee BFAA, Inc. People are calling because they hope that they can still receive financial compensation through the Pigford Class Action lawsuit settlement for discrimination on the part of the USDA. Unfortunately that is not possible unless the matter is opened up for judicial review. The tremendous number of calls we receive indicates that there still is an incredible need for further restitution. However, before you send money anywhere or call for more information please note the following point: The only individuals who have received any settlement money from the USDA regarding the Pigford Class lawsuit are those who were part of the Pigford vs. USDA Class Action Law Suit prior to September 14, 2001. You can only become a part of the Pigford Class Law Suit if it is reopened.
PIGFORD V GLICKMAN
On April 14. 1999, Judge Paul Friedman signed THE CONSENT DECREEE in the class action law suit PIGFORD, BREWINGTON v GLICKMAN and the US Department of Agriculture. BFAA thinks that this is the final nail in the coffin of the Black farmer.
Following is a portion of the OPINION written by Judge Friedman:
"Forty acres and a mule. As the Civil War drew to a close, the United States government created the Freedmen's Bureau to provide assistance to former slaves. The government promised to sell or lease to farmers parcels of unoccupied land and land that had been confiscated by the Union during the war, and it promised the loan of a federal government mule to plow that land. Some African Americans took advantage of these programs and either bought or leased parcels of land. During Reconstruction, however, President Andrew Johnson vetoed a bill to enlarge the powers and activities of the Freedmen's Bureau, and he reversed many of the policies of the Bureau. Much of the promised land that had been leased to African American farmers was taken away and returned to Confederate loyalists. For most African Americans, the promise of forty acres and a mule was never kept. Despite the government's failure to live up to its promise, African American farmers persevered. By 1910, they had acquired approximately 16 million acres of farmland. By 1920, there were 925,000 African American farms in the United States. ...
Most fundamentally, these objections result from a well-founded and deep-seated mistrust of the USDA. A mistrust borne of a long history of racial discrimination. A mistrust that is well-deserved. As Mr. Chestnut put it, these objections reflect "fear which reaches all the way back to slavery. . . . That objection, you heard it from many today, it really asks you to retain jurisdiction, over this case in perpetuity. Otherwise they say USDA will default, ignore the lawful mandates of this Court, and in time march home scot-free while blacks are left holding the empty bag again." Transcript of Hearing of March 2, 1999 at 172, The Court cannot guarantee class members that they will never experience discrimination at the hands of the USDA again, and the Consent Decree does not purport to make such a guarantee. But the Consent Decree and the Court do provide certain assurances.
First, under the terms of this Consent Decree, the USDA is obligated to pay billions of dollars to African American farmers who have suffered discrimination. Those billions of dollars will serve as a reminder to the Department of Agriculture that its actions were unacceptable and should serve to deter it from engaging in the same conduct in the future.
Second, the USDA is not above the law. Like many of the objectors, the Court was surprised and disappointed by the government's response to the Court's modest proposal that the Consent Decree include a simple sentence that in the future the USDA shall exert "best efforts to ensure compliance with all applicable statutes and regulations prohibiting discrimination." Letter from the Court to Counsel, dated March 5, 1999; see Response Letter from the Parties to the Court, dated March 19, 1999. Whether or not the government explicitly states it in this Consent Decree, however, the Constitution and laws of the United States continue to forbid discrimination on the basis of race. see. eg., U.S. CONST. amend, V; 15 U.S.C. § 1691; 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, as do the regulations of the USDA. See 7 C.F.R. § § 15.1, 15.51. The actions of the USDA from now into the future will be scrutinized closely -- by class members, by their now organized and vocal allies, by Congress and by the Court. If the USDA or members of the county committees are operating on the misapprehension that they ever again can repeat the events that led to this lawsuit, those forces will disabuse them of any such notion.
Most importantly, the farmers who have been a part of this lawsuit have demonstrated their power to bring about fundamental change to the Department of Agriculture, albeit more slowly than some would have wanted. Each individual farmer may feel powerless, but as a group they have planted seeds that are changing the landscape of the USDA. As a group, they spurred Secretary Glickman in 1996 to look inward at the practices of the USDA and to examine African American farmers' allegations that the discrimination of the USDA was leading them to the point of financial ruin. As a group, they led Secretary Glickman to create the Civil Rights Action Team, a team that recommended sweeping changes to the USDA and to the county committee system. Indeed, in February 1997, the USDA Civil Rights Action Team itself recommended that the county committee system be revised by converting all county non-federal positions, including the county executive directors, to federal status, that the committee selection process by changed, that voting members of underrepresented groups be appointed to state and county committees, and that county committees be removed from any farm loan determinations. CRAT Report at 64-65.
As a group, the farmers mobilized a broad coalition within Congress to rake the unprecedented action of tolling the statute of limitations. As a group, they brought Secretary Glickman to the negotiating table in this case and achieved the largest civil rights settlement in history. And as a group, they have made implementation of the recommendations of the CRAT Report a priority within the USDA. See Statement of February 9, 1999, by Secretary Dan Glickman, before the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Related Agencies Committee on Appropriations, United Stares Senate ("I also want to emphasize the importance that the President and I have placed on USDA civil rights issues; this priority is reflected in the [FY 2000] budget The President's budget provides the necessary funding to continue to carry out the recommendations of the Civil Rights Action Team (CRAT) as well as the recommendations of the National Commission an Small Farms which supports our civil rights agenda'). While the USDA landscape has remained resistant to change for many seasons, the labors of these farmers finally are beginning to bear fruit. This settlement represents one significant harvest. It is up to the Secretary of Agriculture and other responsible officials at the USDA to fulfill its promises, to ensure that this shameful period is never repeated and to bring the USDA into the twenty-first century.
Forty acres and a mule, The government broke that promise to African American farmers. Over one hundred years later, the USDA broke its promise to Mr. James Beverly. It promised him a loan to build farrowing houses so that he could breed hogs. Because he was African American, he never received that loan. He lost his farm because of the loan that never was. Nothing can completely undo the discrimination of the past or restore lost land or lost opportunities to Mr. Beverly or to all of the other African American farmers whose representatives came before this Court. Historical discrimination cannot be undone.
But the Consent Decree represents a significant first step, A first step that has been a long time earning, but a first step of immeasurable value. As Mr. Chestnut put it, "Who really knows the true value, if there is one, for returning a small army of poor black farmers to the business of farming by the year 2000 who otherwise would never make it back? I am not wise enough to put a dollar value on that and I don't think anybody on this planet is wise enough to reduce that to dollars and cents." Transcript of Hearing of March 2, 1999 at 171. The Consent Decree is a fair, adequate and reasonable settlement of the claims brought in this case.
It therefore will be approved and entered.
Judge Paul Friedman