Systematic racism within the USDA has reduced the amount of Black farmers to almost zero. Why should we care about this? Besides altruism, this elimination of farmland owned by Black farmers has detrimentally impacted rural Black communities. These communities have a poverty rate twice the amount of rural white communities and are plagued by significant economic challenges.
So, how did this happen? Almost all Black families started off as slaves when they came to America and many Black individuals continued to work on farms and grow crops after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Although Black farmers are now allowed to own their own land and profit off of their own products, there are still many issues within the Black farming community. Some of the biggest issues that the Black farming community face are the inability to build and establish credit and the lack of accessible and welcoming farm communities to and for Black people.
Black farmers have been -and continue to be- discriminated against and denied credit to help their farms grow. For this reason, many Black owned farms are smaller in comparison to their white counterparts. Due to the farms being smaller, Black farmers aren’t allowed to make as much money, which has discouraged them from continuing to be farmers. In 1910, more than 14% of the population was made of Black farmers as opposed to today where Black farmers make up less than 2%.
In addition to the lack of accessible credit, farmers also have difficulty being accepted into government funded programs that assist farmers financially. If they do get access to them, it is only for a short time and then they are forced to find new means of assistance.
These are just two examples of discrimination and different organizations such as National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) and Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (BFAA) are working to stop discrimination within the farming community. In 1999, a lawsuit, Pigford vs. Glickman, was filed against the USDA for discrimination against Black farmers, specifically in issuing farm loans and with giving assistance. The farmers won the lawsuit and were given a settlement. Other lawsuits have been filed and some have been won. Different politicians are starting to become more aware of this issue and are making it a part of their political mission.