Racism and Black Farmers

Since 1965, multiple federal agencies—most notably the USDA itself—have issued reports citing, as the US Commission on Civil Rights put it that year, “unmistakable evidence that racial discrimination” within the Agriculture Department “has served to accelerate the displacement and impoverishment of the Negro farmer.” Through discriminatory loan denials and deliberate delays in financial aid, the USDA systematically blocked Black farmers from accessing critical federal funds. “If you are Black and you’re born south of the Mason-Dixon Line and you tried to farm, you’ve been discriminated against,” Lloyd Wright, the director of the USDA Office of Civil Rights under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and a Black Virginia farmer, told me. The debts Black farmers consequently accrued cost them millions of acres, which were then snapped up by white buyers. In 1920, the number of Black farmers peaked at nearly 1 million, constituting 14 percent of all farmers. But between 1910 and 1997, they lost 90 percent of their property. (White farmers lost only 2 percent in the same period.) As of 2017, there were just 35,470 Black-owned farms, representing 1.7 percent of all farms. The land Black farmers lost, some 16 million acres, is conservatively estimated to be worth $250 billion to $350 billion today.

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