Black Farmers’ Appeal:
Cancel Pigford Debt Campaign
Black legacy farmers and their families standing in front of the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, DC.
Courtesy of Gary Grant, Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association. March 2, 1999.
$20,000 of the $25,000 annual debt was interest. Now, can you imagine if we couldn’t get money to repay the principal, how hard it was to get the money to pay the interest. That interest is terrible.
–Gladys Todd, Legacy Farmer (Zebulon, NC)
A landless people…got a problem.
–Lucious Abrams, Legacy Farmer (Waynesboro, GA)
I think the USDA just got a problem with Black folk with land. It is evident. Everywhere Black people own land, ninety percent of them have a problem in trying to hold on to it.
–Carl Parker, Legacy Farmer (Ashburn, GA)
When you look at these eighty and ninety-year-old Black men and women having to fight these kinds of fights it is unimaginable.
–Eddie Slaughter, Legacy Farmer (Buena Vista, GA)
The Black Farmers’ Appeal: Cancel Pigford Debt Campaign is a grassroots organizing, popular education, and legal advocacy campaign to rectify the injustices of the Pigford v. Glickman (Pigford I) class action racial discrimination lawsuit. Inspired by David Walker’s impassioned entreaty against the chattel enslavement of Africans in the United States, the Black Farmers’ Appeal: Cancel Pigford Debt Campaign is a polemic against yet another form of racialized capitalism–unconscionable debt. Our collective is comprised of a multigenerational tribe of farmers, attorneys, writers, heritage quilters, artists, and musicians using our diverse magic to dismantle institutional racial discrimination within the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) with the following demands: cancellation of all USDA debts, full federal and state tax relief, return of offsets, access to land, and the establishment of a $2.5 billion restorative justice fund to regenerate the Black agricultural land base. We explore innovative collaborations that deepen the linkages of music, ecocultural traditions, and cooperative economy to protect Black landownership and stewardship, while raising community awareness, collectivism, and action.
In 1997, the USDA released the Civil Rights Action Team (CRAT) Report, a condemning report that affirmed Black farmer narratives of pervasive government-sanctioned racial discrimination against them through the Farm Service Agency and county committee systems. Later that year, farmer-plaintiffs Timothy Pigford, Cecil Brewington, Lucious Abrams, George Hall, Eddie Ross, and Lloyd Shaffer filed class action lawsuits, charging the USDA with discrimination against Black farmers in the distribution of loans as well as failure to investigate complaints regarding widespread systemic racial animus. The goal of the Pigford I lawsuit was to restore Black farmers and their agricultural land base through full debt cancellation, federal and state tax relief, monetary compensation, priority of lending services, return of land, and access to land in USDA inventory.
After the lawsuit, the vast majority of Black farmers were left with crushing debts, threat of foreclosures, and no legal recourse to save their family farms. Most of this debt originated from the racist misdeeds of USDA and was supposed to be canceled under the Pigford I settlement, but due to a range of factors including attorney malpractice, incompetence, and the aggressive posture of the US Department of Justice in fighting the claims of Black farmers, only 4.8 percent of the $1 billion Pigford I settlement went to debt cancellation. Moreover, the Pigford I farmers never received economic redress from the $1.25 billion bill signed by President Barack Obama in 2010 that provided recompense to late claimants in the In Re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation Settlement (Pigford II). Illustrating the glaring inequity, the NY Times article, “Trump Funnels Record Subsidies to Farmers Ahead of Election Day”, revealed that President Donald Trump dispersed over $46 billion in subsidies in 2020 to mostly white farmers and large-scale industrial farms. Currently, over 17,000 Black legacy farmers are delinquent on their loans to USDA ranging from 5 to 30 years.
For over twenty years, aging Black farmers have delayed foreclosures by pooling their resources and filing pro se complaints in federal court. Shockingly, the USDA continues to offset Black farmers’ tax refunds, social security, disability, and subsidy payments to cover outstanding debts. Elder Eddie Slaughter, a double amputee legacy farmer from Buena Vista, GA, had his social security, peanut subsidy, and disability payments offset for over nine years amounting to over $41,000. Consequently, Black farmers have not been able to fully activate their freedom dreams because they have been locked out of credit from USDA and other lending sources due to this shackle of debt. In December 2017, six Black farmers filed a pro se complaint in the US District Court for the District of Columbia to obtain the recovery mandated by the Pigford I Consent Decree and to stop USDA foreclosures on their family farms. In 2019, Presiding Judge Paul Friedman ruled in favor of USDA and dismissed the farmers’ complaint. The farmers appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Standing in solidarity with our Black legacy farmers, attorneys affiliated with the Black Belt Justice Center and the Black Farmers’ Appeal: Cancel Pigford Debt Campaign provided legal representation to the farmers in their federal appeal as well as other legal and legislative strategies.
For the most part, when the arc of the Pigford I lawsuit has been explored and memorialized in print, audio, or film, Black farmers who carry the lived experiences from “USDA the Last Plantation” have been excluded from the consequential shaping of history and collective memory. Our campaign takes a page out of the Black farmers’ community organizing playbook by centering the personal and collective narratives of Black farmers. In December 2019, Acres of Ancestry/Black Agrarian Fund (AAI/BAF) launched “Black Farms Stolen: The Legacy of the Pigford Lawsuit”, a community (re)education series on social media that provided a historical overview of the Pigford I lawsuit and exposed the crushing debts many Black farmers still experience after the lawsuit. In addition to key historical documents, our popular education series included archival interviews with Black legacy farmers. From 2009-2013, Elder Eddie Slaughter traveled throughout the country, with his own recording equipment and vehicle, interviewing other legacy farmers to document the trauma and economic devastation of the Pigford I aftermath. In the same month, AAI/BAF traveled to Georgia and interviewed three Black legacy farmers. In collaboration, with Obsidian Creative Studios, AAI/BAF edited the video footage into an 18-episode web series that was released across our social media platforms in early Spring 2020. Building on our growing repository of archival and contemporary farmer interviews with Black legacy farmers, the AAI/BAF will fortify our repository with interviews with Black women legacy farmers. Additionally, AAI/BAF plans to incorporate select portions of our farmer interviews into pop-up ecocultural art exhibitions featuring our permanent collection of fiber art and agrarian material culture to increase support for the Black Farmers’ Appeal: Cancel Pigford Debt Campaign.
In Spring 2020, AAI/BAF collaborated with the South Carolina Lowcountry hip hop group, Native Son, to create the anthem for our campaign, “The Land.” “The Land” is our generation’s love offering to the beautiful struggle to protect 1.5 million acres of Black farmlands from USDA dispossession. Our work continues to grow with Native Son with the debut of “RESTORATION: A Concert Film.” The film explores southern Black agrarian stories of self-determination, land ownership, and folkwit; amplifies ongoing struggles for restorative land justice in this country including the Black Farmers’ Appeal: Cancel Pigford Debt Campaign; and weaves together live musical performances from Native Son and the personal narratives of Black legacy farmers and land stewards throughout the film.
Decades of farmer-led organizing combined with our heightened efforts over the last three years laid the groundwork for the Justice for Black Farmers Act of 2020. Introduced by US Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on November 30th, 2020, the Justice for Black Farmers Act is historic legislation that finally provides comprehensive debt cancellation of both USDA direct and guaranteed loans, federal tax relief, and a foreclosure moratorium for Black legacy farmers who filed claims under the Pigford I Consent Decree.
The legacy of the Pigford lawsuit is the theft of Black farms through usurious debt. Most Americans are unaware of this shameful chapter in US history. The fact that our government packaged amoral debt and land theft as restorative land justice for decades of systemic racial discrimination against Black farmers reveals just how far we have come in this experiment of American democracy. Many of our elder Black farmers refer to USDA as “The Last Plantation” due to the agency’s history of pervasive racial animus, discrimination, and criminality against Black farmers. If the Biden-Harris Administration is truly committed to dismantling institutional discrimination within USDA, they will fully support the Justice for Black Farmers Act as well as the comprehensive policy platform of Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Thank you to all of the supporters that have helped to amplify the Black Farmers’ Appeal: Cancel Pigford Debt Campaign to raise awareness of the plight of our Black legacy farmers. In order to claim this victory for our farmers, we need to activate our collective power. In the words of June Jordan, “we are the ones we have been waiting for.”
PIGFORD LEGACY FARMER ANCESTOR SCROLL
BLACK FARMERS WHO CROSSED INTO ANCESTORHOOD WITHOUT
RESTORATIVE LAND JUSTICE FROM USDA UNDER THE PIGFORD LAWSUIT
Our Ancestor Scroll was birthed from an interview with Elder Eddie Slaughter, a farmer-organizer from Buena Vista, GA. Elder Slaughter suggested that we build a wall dedicated to all the Black legacy farmers who transitioned to the Land of the Ancestors without restorative land justice from USDA.
News Articles and Reports on the Implementation of Pigford I Consent Decree AND AFTERMATH
The Cuban agroecologist Fernando Funes Monzote shared, "you make the path by walking."
Engage with our tribe on social media as we make our path toward collective liberation through the preservation of Black agrarian custodial landownership, ecological stewardship, and food and fiber economies in the South.