Black Farmers Denied Debt Relief

Federal Court Moves to End Discrimination… AGAINST WHITE FARMERS!



On June 23, a federal judge in Florida issued a nationwide injunction temporarily blocking debt relief payments intended for Black and other minority farmers.1 The payments, which are desperately needed for the survival of many Black-owned farms, are intended to be part of a much larger “American Rescue Plan” for coronavirus pandemic relief that became federal law in March. However, the relief for Black farmers was stopped after white farmers in several states—supported by former Trump/Pence regime officials and other fascists—sued, claiming they were being discriminated against. The case will be reheard, either later this year or early next year.

According to NBC News, the federal judge claimed in her ruling that debt relief for Black farmers “likely violates white farmers’ rights to equal protection under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.”2 She said that the debt relief program would “result in an imminent, one-time act of discrimination [against white farmers] that cannot be remedied through an award of monetary damage or other relief in this case.”3

The reality is that Black farmers have long been victims of repeated and systematic discrimination in this country. Through the course of the 20th century, Black farmers lost over 12 million acres of farmland.4 A recent study estimates the value of that lost land in today’s dollars to be over $185 billion.5 In 1920, there were 925,000 Black-owned farms totaling about 15 million acres of land, about 14 percent of all farms in the U.S.6 But over the next century, over 12 million acres of farmland were lost by Black farmers.7 Today, the number of farmers who are Black has fallen to 1.3% of the total.8

“The Last Plantation”

Small farmers in general have been getting crushed by corporate agriculture for the past 100 years.9 In 2017, a little over two million farms remained in the U.S.,10 down from about six million in 1935.11 But Black farmers have been hit particularly hard, repeatedly. The devastation of Black-owned farms has been driven by policy at the federal, state, and local levels; by discriminatory loan and finance practices of banks; and by outright racism on the county level. Beginning in the 1930s and continuing for decades afterwards, Black farmers seeking a loan had to go before committees12 mainly made up of wealthy Southern whites who “ignored or antagonized African-American farmers, who were excluded from serving on the committees and lacked the resources to challenge the decisions of the all-white members bent on limiting the amount of crops they could grow.”13

Massive loss of Black-owned farmland intensified in the 1950s and 1960s.14 The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was sometimes called “the Last Plantation,” because it systematically denied operating loans to Black farmers and carried out other discriminatory practices.15

Audits of the USDA showed that its “illegal pressures levied through its loan programs created massive transfers of wealth from Black to white farmers, especially in the period just after the 1950s. In 1965, the United States Commission on Civil Rights uncovered blatant and dramatic racial differences in the level of federal investment in farmers.”16 Fifteen years later, the Reagan administration slashed funding to the USDA’s civil rights office and brought its enforcement program to a “virtual standstill.”17 Hundreds of discrimination complaints gathered dust or went into the trash.

In 1997, the National Black Farmers Association, representing nearly 1,000 Black farmers, sued the USDA in a $2.5 billion class action suit. The result of that suit was the largest civil rights settlement ever won against the federal government.18 The settlement was supposed to pay over $2 billion to Black farmers,19 mainly in the woefully inadequate sum of $50,000 each. Fewer than 16,000 of the 22,000 claims filed under the settlement were successful. Outrageously, 70,000 farmers were excluded from the settlement because they supposedly filed late.20

None of the payments went out until 2014—15 long years after the agreement was supposedly reached. Meanwhile, many farmers went deeper into debt, and many said the federal concessions were too little and too late—particularly for those who had lost their farms to foreclosure or who were forced to declare bankruptcy. And nothing changed in how the USDA dealt with Black farmers seeking justice from the USDA. A report on the website The Counter revealed that “by the end of the Bush administration, there were 14,000 outstanding cases [claiming discrimination against Black people] from between 2001 and 2008, and only one finding of discrimination during that period.”21

The Trump/Pence Regime’s Blatant Racism

As part of the overall fascist program of the Trump/Pence regime, Black farmers were victims of flagrant and open discrimination. A prime example of that was when Trump severely restricted the sales of many agricultural products to China in 2018, as part of a U.S. “trade war” with that country. Farm bankruptcies soared, and Trump “shoveled tens of billions of dollars to farmers, ranchers, and companies in the [agricultural] sector.”22 But 99.5 percent of this money went to white farm operators.23 John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, said, “The Trump Administration has been the worst administration in history for Black farmers. We have been totally shut out of the farm subsidy program, farm ownership laws, from rural development.”24


These obscenely vindictive and blatantly white supremacist actions are not “one-time” instances of discrimination. They are manifestations of a system with deep oppression of Black people woven into every stitch of its existence. And as the recent federal court ruling stopping debt relief for Black farmers illustrates, blatant exploitation of and discrimination against Black farmers continue to this day.

For more on the history of Black farmers, go here. will be covering further developments around Black farmers.


1. “Judge Blocks $4 Billion Debt Relief Program for Minority Farmers,” New York Times, June 23, 2021 [back]

2. “White Farmer Wins Temporary Halt to Program for Black Counterparts,” NBC News, June 24, 2021 [back]

3. “Court Halts Black Farmer Loan Forgiveness Program,” FarmProgress, June 24, 2021 [back]

4. “Relief Bill is Most Significant Legislation for Black Farmers Since Civil Rights Act, Experts Say,” Washington Post, March 10, 2020 [back]

5. “’Revolution is Based on Land’: Wealth Denied Via Black Land Ownership Loss,” [back]

6. “African Americans Have Lost Untold Acres of Land Over the Last Century,” The Nation, July 17-24, 2017 [back]

7. “Relief Bill is Most Significant Legislation for Black Farmers Since Civil Rights Act, Experts Say,” Washington Post, March 10, 2020 [back]

8. “A Brief History of Black Land Ownership in the U.S.,” Fair Farms Maryland [back]

9. How America’s Food Giants Swallowed the Family Farms,” The Guardian, March 9, 2019 [back]

10. “New Census of Agriculture Shows Decline in Number of America’s Farms, Farmers, and Farmland,” American Farmland Trust, April 20, 2019 [back]

11. “Decline of the American Small Family Farm in One Chart,” Washington Post, September 16, 2014 [back]

12. The Agricultural Adjustment Agency (AAA), a federal agency whose intended purpose was to offset the effects of the Depression on agriculture, began a program of centrally set policies that were administered by county agents. [back]

13. “Black-Owned Farms are Hanging on by a Thread,” Eater, February 23, 2021 [back]

14. “The Great Land Robbery,” The Atlantic, September 15, 2019 [back]

15. “USDA: The Last Plantation,” Successful Farming, February 5, 2021 [back]

16. “The Great Land Robbery,” The Atlantic, September 2019 [back]

17. “This Land Is Not Your Land,Mother Jones, May-June 2021 [back]

18. As Revolution newspaper wrote at that time, “the USDA had to admit that they had simply ignored hundreds of discrimination cases filed by Black farmers. Some of the Black farmers who joined the class action suit have been fighting for justice and redress for 15 or 20 years.” [back]

19. “Black US Farmers Dismayed as White Farmers Lawsuit Halts Relief Payments,” The Guardian, June 22, 2021 [back]

20. “National Black Farmers Association – About Us” [back]

21. “How USDA Distorted Data to Conceal Decades of Discrimination Against Black Farmers,” The Counter, June 26, 2019 [back]

22. “Trump’s Trade Wars Have Made Bad Agricultural Policies Worse,” Foreign Policy, October 27, 2020 [back]

23. “Nearly 100 Percent of Trump Funds Designed to Help Farmers Went to White Farmers,” Grist, August 1, 2019 [back]

24. “Trump Administration ‘Worst in History for Black Farmers’: National Black Farmers Association President, Yahoo News, February 11, 2021 [back]

John Boyd and his father on their family farm in Virginia. He remembers how 30 years ago a USDA official tossed his loan application in the trash. Photo: Courtesy John Boyd

In 1997 the National Black Farmers Association, representing nearly 1,000 Black farmers, sued the USDA in a $2.5 billion class action suit. Here Tennessee farmers at a rally as part of that effort. Photo: AP



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