Black Farmers Settlement Approved

WI Staff | 11/2/2011, 3:37 p.m.

Compiled from AP and other news sources

A federal judge has given final approval to a $1.2 billion government settlement with black farmers who claim they were unfairly denied loans and other assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture over many years.

Federal judge Paul Friedman approved the settlement late Thu, October 27. He said it will likely take about a year for neutral parties to review claims and then all of the settlements will be paid out at once.

In February, 2010, USDA and the U.S. Department of Justice announced an agreement with African-American farmers to settle the Pigford II litigation for $1.25 billion. Congress passed the Claims Settlement Act that funded the settlement in November 2010, and the bill was signed by President Obama in December 2010.

"I'm very pleased that this has resolved itself," Judge Friedman said Friday. "It will provide relief to an awful lot of people."

In his decision to establish payments, Friedman wrote, "Historical discrimination cannot be undone for the broken promise to those African-American farmers and their descendants."

As many as 68,000 African-American farmers who filed between 1999 and 2008 are expected to apply for relief.

John Boyd, founder of the National Black Farmers Association, said "So many farmers had even given up hope that this would ever come to pass."

In 1995, Boyd founded the National Black Farmers Association after encountering discriminatory practices at USDA first-hand and meeting many more black farmers who shared this experience. Boyd soon led NBFA members in a march on the White House where he met with President Clinton and to testify before Congress. A fourth generation farmer, Boyd has been relentless in his fight on behalf of African American farmers.

President Barack Obama called the decision "another important step forward in addressing an unfortunate chapter in USDA's civil rights history."

"This agreement will provide overdue relief and justice to African American farmers, and bring us closer to the ideals of freedom and equality that this country was founded on."

"This settlement allows the Department of Agriculture and African-American farmers to focus on the future, and brings us one step closer to giving these farmers a chance to have their claims heard," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "Accomplishing this settlement has been a top priority of this Administration and I am pleased that the court has approved it."

While allegations of discrimination continue to surface at USDA, Secretary Vilsack said the decision means that USDA "can continue turning the page on this sad chapter in USDA history."

"Since my first day at USDA, I made it a priority to treat all Americans with respect and dignity and to ensure equal access to our programs. Court approval of the Pigford settlement is another important step to ensure some level of justice for black farmers and ranchers who faced discrimination when trying to obtain services from USDA," said Secretary Vilsack.

"In the months and years ahead, we will not stop working to move the Department into a new era as a model employer and premier service provider for all Americans regardless of race, ethnicity or gender."

Congressman Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-Va.) said he commended John Boyd "for his tenacity in advocating for justice for these farmers and bringing their plight to my attention and the attention of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus. Without the support of the CBC..., this long overdue settlement would not have been possible."

"I am glad to see that this day has finally come. For years, Black farmers have faced discrimination--not only from businesses, but from the very government that was meant to protect them, said CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver, II. "Not only will this agreement provide overdue relief, but it will provide justice to African American farmers who have been disenfranchised."