Deadline for black farmers lawsuit May 11

May 6, 2012 in News, Statewide News, Top Stories

By Monica Land 

WASHINGTON – For decades, black farmers across the south were unjustly denied farm loans or subjected to longer waits for loan approval because of racism; and as a result, many of them lost their land, their farms and their homes.

They turned to the USDA and for years, they failed to hear the cry of the lowly black farmer. Timothy Pigford, of North Carolina, was one of them.

In 1976, Pigford was growing corn and soybeans on 75 leased acres when he applied for a USDA loan of $150,000 to buy his own farm.

Pigford was awarded a USDA operating loan for seeds, fertilizer and supplies. But year after year, he was denied a farm-ownership loan.

In 1984, Pigford testified before Congress that he was denied loans because of racism. Three months later, a USDA official in North Carolina told him that his application for a 1985 ownership loan, and for another operating loan, had been denied.

Pigford filed a discrimination complaint with the USDA. But as proceedings dragged on, he couldn’t pay back his original operating loan. His electricity was cut off for a year and in 1995, federal marshals seized his house under foreclosure proceedings.

In 1997, Pigford filed his discrimination suit. Two years later, a federal judge approved the settlement for $100 million.

Timothy Pigford had won the largest civil rights settlement in United States history.

Scores of other black farmers benefited from Pigford’s efforts, even more so since December 2010 when President Barack Obama, who has been consistent in his backing of the claims of black farmers, allocated an additional $1.15 billion to fund claims in the settlement agreement.

Following Pigford’s initial suit, more than 13,000 farmers – able to provide proof of their claims of discrimination – were awarded $50,000 each and given debt relief in that package worth more than $1 billion.

But tens of thousands of claims were denied for missing the filing deadline. The settlement in Pigford II would allow these farmers to again make their claims.

“We have worked hard to address USDA’s checkered past so we can get to the business of helping farmers succeed,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in 2010. “The agreement reached today is an important milestone in putting these discriminatory claims behind us for good,” he added.

A deadline of May 11, 2012 has now been set for black farmers – and their heirs – who were discriminated against or denied loans by the USDA between the years of 1981 and 1996. Any foreclosure on farms with pending claims will be halted until the claims are addressed.

“These are people who have been promised things over the past and they haven’t transpired,” John Boyd Jr., founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association told Reuters.

“The plaintiffs can now move forward and have their claims heard — with the federal government standing not as an adversary, but as a partner,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.

For more information about the Black Farmer’s lawsuit deadline log onto: www.blackfarmercase.com or call 1-877-810-8110.