Black farmers move closer to federal government settlement - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Black farmers move closer to federal government settlement

By Jim Wallace - bio | email

Lee County, GA (WALB) - The Obama Administration has proposed a one and a quarter billion dollar settlement in the decade-old Black Farmers discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The budget item would still have to pass Congress, but it is seen as a historic step toward settling the suit.

But local advocates say even this tremendous sum of money is not enough to pay for the loss that black farmers and their families suffered over the generations.

Horace Mays and his son Horace Mays Junior are busy in the fields planting peanuts. The Mays family has farmed for several generations in South Georgia, and Mays says he heard about discrimination against the black farmer in the past.

"A lot of people tell me that the black farmer would come in there and fill out the paperwork and won't get a loan until almost time to harvest the crop," said the elder Mays.

Black Farmers filed the Pigford Class Action Lawsuit in 1997 against the USDA for discrimination in loan practices. Now advocates say the Obama settlement offer is good news, but still not enough money to make up for what it cost.

"One point 25 billion is not enough," said Shirley Sherrod Georgia Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. "So now we're scrambling to see what we are going to do."

In 2008's Farm Bill the offer was $100 million. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack says he wants to correct past errors by the USDA and move forward with a new civil rights program.

Now black farmer groups will meet to decide if this offer will be accepted, and how it will be distributed, to finally bring the long fight to a close.

"So we don't have to deal with discrimination from this point on. We can just deal with the business of farming and development in the rural area," Sherrod said.

And that a fair administration will bring more young black men like Horace Mays Junior into agriculture. He was fighting for his country in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, before returning to his family heritage.

"It's pretty much been in my family my whole life. I grew up on the farm," Horace Mays, Junior said.

"Got a lot of faith," said Horace Mays. "The good Lord is gonna take care of us."

Advocates say it is finally time to settle this long court struggle, and plant a productive crop.

The Mays say they have not faced discrimination as black farmers in recent years dealing with the USDA.

    • Click HERE for some Associated Press background on the government set-aside.
    • The Black Farmers Association has a story HERE
    • Here is another story on the background of the lawsuit

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