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Charlotte Area News

Congress Gives Final Approval To Compensate Black Farmers

Thousands of black farmers across the South stand to benefit from a funding bill approved by Congress yesterday. President Obama is expected to sign the measure quickly, designating $1.25 billion to compensate black farmers who were discriminated against by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Etta Jackson's farm in Prentiss, Mississippi used to be about 40 acres, but it's dwindled to just a small garden patch. "We had cucumbers, peas and beans and all that kind of stuff," says Jackson. She wants the U.S. government to make up for all that she lost when couldn't get a farm loan while white farmers in her community seemed to have no trouble securing funds from the Department of Agriculture. It was the same story for James Copeland in Columbus, Georgia. He ended up having to sell the farm. If he'd gotten that loan from the government, he says things would be much better for him today. "I maybe could have kept everything going and it could have stayed with the family and I would continue to be a farmer," says Copeland. Copeland and Jackson are among an estimated 80,000 black farmers who may now be eligible for a $50,000 dollar compensation check through a $1.25 billion measure approved by Congress. More than a decade ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture admitted to discriminating against black farmers and settled their lawsuit. But tens of thousands of black farmers didn't hear about the settlement in time. John Boyd of the National Black Farmers Association has spent the last decade trying to get money for all of those late-filers who missed the first deadline. Yesterday, he got it. "Part of me is overfilled with joy," said Boyd just after the vote. "But there's a part that's also filled with disappointment for the many black farmers that have died waiting for justice and is just not here to enjoy this moment." One of those farmers is Addie Haynes of Whiteville, North Carolina. She passed away in 2003. Her daughter Pauline Haynes George plans to file the claim for her. "It would be really, really a blessing, because let me tell you something - black farmers right here in our community have gone through a lot," says Pauline Haynes George. Addie Haynes had to surrender her farm equipment and most of her land when she couldn't get a loan to keep the farm afloat. Pauline says her mother would be relieved to know justice had finally been served. However, it could still take months - or even years - for black farmers to receive their settlement money. Each claim will have to be reviewed by a judge. John Boyd says the money's important, but it's not the only thing he's been fighting for. "There is no amount of money that could have compensated me for the act of discrimination and the way that made me feel," says Boyd of the nine years he tried unsuccessfully to get a loan from the Department of Agriculture. "It was very degrading the way they spoke to me and the way they treated me and my family. So I don't think it's about the money. I think this is about justice." Boyd believes discrimination against black farmers is a major reason they have dwindled to just one and a half percent of total farm operators in America, compared to 14 percent back in 1920. Boyd also believes black farmers are still being treated unfairly in local farm bureau offices. The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture has vowed to change what he's called a "culture of discrimination." A comprehensive review of the department is underway and recommendations are due at the end of the month. John Boyd has high hopes that his son "will be able to walk into a county office and he won't have to check the box that says black, white, Hispanic or other. "I'm hopeful we can get that off the application and just be looked at as American Farmers," says Boyd. Yesterday's approval of funding for black farmers closes what President Obama calls "a painful chapter in our nation's history." Now, the President says his administration will focus on resolving similar claims of discrimination made by women and Hispanic farmers.