America finally delivers to black farmers, thanks to Raphael Warnock
Georgia is the state that gave Democrats their majority in the Senate, and one of the two Senators that got it, Raphael Warnock, is expected to bow to President Biden when the White House’s “Help is Here” tour visits Fishing State on Friday. Warnock is responsible for securing debt relief for black farmers in the American rescue plan, an issue that has eluded significant action for decades, and that he knows well from growing up in rural Georgia.
It’s highly unusual for a freshman senator in his first few months in office to achieve such a notable achievement, but his election as the 50th Democrat made it possible for the $ 1.9 trillion package to pass. And so, a grateful Democratic leadership wants to make sure voters recognize how central he is to the change Biden has vowed to bring.
Warnock will be on the ballot next year, and Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature is pushing through all kinds of voting barriers to discourage a high turnout that benefits Democrats – and to ensure they get a result. different in November 2022, when Warnock presents itself. for his first full term in the Senate.
Within the massive $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill is a provision, for which Warnock is directly responsible, creating a $ 5 billion fund to benefit farmers of color who have historically been marginalized and need help covering unpaid debts and avoiding foreclosure – help, by the way, that white farmers regularly receive. Four billion dollars of the total would go towards debt relief, and one billion dollars would provide technical assistance and grants, a belated aid to right a serious historic wrong.
“Almost since its inception, American farm policy has been racist,” says Zoe Willingham, co-author of a 2019 report on black farmers for the Center for American Progress. The government’s documented history of denying federal loans to black farmers led to the loss of about 90 percent of their land between 1910 and 1997, while white farmers lost only about 2 percent. “The first significant action for black farmers is the cancellation of federal financial loans in the US bailout,” said Willingham, who credits support to local farmer groups and strong progressive leaders like Warnock for generating the congressional support. “It’s exciting to see the leadership he has taken on.”
Almost immediately after arriving in the Senate, Warnock proposed a stand-alone bill, the Farmers of Color Emergency Relief Act. Its central element is the cancellation of the loan, and by working with fellow Democrats Cory Booker and Ben Ray Lujan, he obtained the first significant action on this long and deep problem of financial aid for black farmers. “I hope Biden sees this as a huge win,” Willingham told The Daily Beast. “It highlighted a forgotten segment of rural America, namely rural communities of color.”
Warnock grew up in social housing in rural Georgia, where his teenage mother picked cotton as a sharecropper. “40 Acres and a Mule” was the federal government’s promise to distribute land to blacks freed after the Civil War. It was a broken promise, and in 1999, 16 years after the United States Civil Rights Commission detailed discrimination against black farmers, the USDA (Department of Agriculture) settled a lawsuit with black farmers for pay damages.
It’s called the Pigford affair, named after one of the farmers, and it was a moral victory that did not measure up financially. “It marked recognition of the battle for farmers, but it by no means made up for the century of discrimination they suffered,” said Willingham.
As a senator, Barack Obama sponsored the Claims Remedy Act for another round of payments. Among the cosponsors was his colleague Senator Joe Biden. In 2010, with the two men in the White House, Obama signed the $ 1.15 billion legislation, claiming it would end what he called “a painful chapter in American history.” Conservatives attacked it as backdoor reparations, and while a billion dollars was no small thing, it did very little to repair the loss of land and the degradation of rural black communities.
When the US stimulus package passed with debt relief for black farmers, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called to congratulate John Boyd, founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association. A fourth-generation farmer in Baskerville, Va., Boyd has suffered directly at the hands of racist USDA County agents, and after decades of activism, nationwide protest and lobbying lawmakers, he knows all the players in Washington.
Vilsack called him twice to “calm the waters” as he went through Senate confirmation for a second tour of duty at the USDA. “I told him (Vilsack) things can’t be the same as under Obama. It needs to be more aggressive in the face of discrimination in write-downs and debt write-offs. It’s behavior and culture, which is why we call it (USDA) “The Last Plantation”.
Boyd, 55, grows corn, wheat and soybeans, and owns about 100 head of cattle on 114 acres of land. He has been a farmer for 38 years, long enough to have suffered the most egregious forms of discrimination. He described to the Daily Beast how the local county agent was “the next thing to God”, ruling over black farmers, seeing them only one day a week and “loud and bragging” calling them “boy” and throwing racial insults. “We called it Black Wednesday,” Boyd explains.
Of 157 farm loans made at Boyd’s home in Mecklenburg County, only two were made to black farmers. Loan applications for local white farmers took 30 days to process; the same request for black farmers took 387 days.
““We’ve been through so many stories, from slavery to sharecropping to Jim Crow,” Boyd says, “and now we’re lucky to get help, and [Graham’s] take hits there.“
During the Trump administration, Boyd met with Trump’s Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who told him black farmers had to “get fat or get out.” Boyd said he replied, “How are we going to get fat if you don’t lend us money?” In the CARES Act, almost all of the billions of dollars earmarked for farmers went to white farmers, USDA data shows.
GOP Senator Lindsey Graham called the $ 5 billion fund set aside in the US stimulus package for debt relief for marginalized farmers as a loaded term “repairs.” Boyd has lobbied for Graham’s support over the years and said the South Carolina Republican was “very cordial, but he never did anything about it.” “We’ve been through so many stories, from slavery to sharecropping to Jim Crow,” Boyd says, “and now we have a chance to get help, and he’s having it all. “
Debt relief applies to blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans “and any group that fits the designation of being marginalized,” Boyd explains. At the end of our interview, he said that there was one thing he wanted in this article, and that was his message: “Above all, do not give up on the young people, who are doing this work, you must continue to to push. In 2003, he drove his cart pulled by two mules to Washington, DC to protest. It took him 17 days. He had a sign that said “40 Acres and Struggles”, the name of his mules. “People laughed at me, and here we are all those years later finally getting justice.”