NAACP: Respecting Black Farmers

Writing at the Huffington Post, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin T. Jealous checks in on a debate raging around a court settlement for black farmers, contending that there is no way to make up for the decades of discrimination that crippled the group's proud history.

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President Barack Obama speaks before signing the black farmers settlement in 2010. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Contending that there is no way to make up for decades of discrimination that crippled the proud history of black farmers, on the Huffington Post NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous checks in on the debate raging around a court settlement.

There is no way to make up for decades of discrimination that crippled the proud history of black farm ownership in this country. But we can do our best to move forward.

In 1999 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) settled the civil rights lawsuit Pigford v Glickman. They agreed to compensate thousands of black farmers who suffered racial discrimination at the hands of the USDA's farm loan program between 1981 and 1996. In the last three years, the federal government has started to provide relief to a second group of black farmers, as well as thousands of Native American, Hispanic, and women farmers who suffered discrimination of their own.

These initiatives have come under recent scrutiny and accusations of fraud. But many critics do not know the full story. The Pigford settlements only just begin to make up for the long and ugly history of discrimination against black farmers and other farmers of color in the United States.

Like so many great ideas in our nation's history, the USDA farm loan program was the product of compromise. In 1935, mired in the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt developed a plan to help struggling farmers pay off their debts and stave off bankruptcy. But the initiative first had to earn the blessing of White southern senators who dominated Congress.

These senators insisted that the federal funds should funnel through southern plantation owners and wealthy white farmers. The white farmers would then distribute the loans to their black tenants and sharecroppers.

In practice, they were often not inclined to pass the funds along.

Read Benjamin Todd Jealous' entire blog entry at the Huffington Post.

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