by USDA, McCray nearly gave up on farming
Leroy McCray applied to the Farm Services
Agency (FSA) around 1990, requesting $5
million in working capital and equipment
loans to set up a chicken farm in Sumter
County, SC. The local USDA FSA official
met with McCray, telling him that no money
was available. "They told me to go
look for a private loan," he recalls.
This story was not what his white neighbors
were told, "I knew there were 7-8 white
farmers in my area with chicken farms who
were getting the money, the same type of
loan that I wanted. And they only had high
school education and limited or no farming
experience when they got their loans. I
was a college graduate with lots of experience
with different farm animals and operations,
and I was getting denied. It didn't make
Settlement presented difficult
McCray learned of the civil rights settlement
with USDA, and chose to pursue relief, though
he felt that it would not make him whole.
"It wasn't an easy decision, I didn't
want to just take the $50,000. I wanted
to go for the $5 million they had denied
me, but it seemed like it would never be
resolved if I did that." McCray is
one of the few farmers who received relief
under the settlement. Despite his success,
McCray does not expect USDA's treatment
of African American farmers to change. "It's
not any better, it's still the same as it
was. It's the same plot."
WASHINGTON, D.C., July 20, 2004: The
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) withheld nearly
three out of every four dollars in a $2.3 billion landmark
civil rights settlement with black farmers, according
to a new report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG)
and the National Black Farmers Association.
The historic agreement was intended to quickly pay
back black farmers for decades of unequal treatment
when they applied for USDA crop loan programs. Instead,
the investigation found, USDA treated farmers as legal
adversaries by contracting with US Department of Justice
lawyers, who spent at least 56,000 staff hours and $12
million contesting individual farmer claims.
As a result, the vast majority of African American
farmers have been denied the "automatic" compensation
that the settlement promised. For the 81,000 farmers
denied compensation, there is no future opportunity
to obtain relief. Without intervention by the United
States Congress, these farmers will never receive the
compensation they deserve.
The USDA hid information it had already compiled on
loan program treatment differences between white and
black applicants. African American farmers were forced
to try to reconstruct, on their own, information that
was readily available at USDA.
"The numbers in this investigation show this program
is a complete failure in addressing and ending decades
of discrimination against African American farmers,"
said Arianne Callender, EWG general counsel. "Instead
of processing claims as promised, USDA used the full
weight of the federal government against African American
farmers it had already discriminated against."
"Thousands of us are losing our land because USDA
has shut out African American farmers from crop loan
programs for decades," said John Boyd, president
of the National Black Farmers Association. "This
settlement was supposed to pay us back for unfairly
denying us the same opportunities as everyone else.
Instead, they have thrown up roadblock after roadblock."
The investigation found that, nearly nine out of ten
denied restitution. USDA denied payment to 86 percent,
or 81,000 out of 94,000, of African American farmers
who came forward seeking restitution.
The full investigation is available on EWG's website:
refused to even provide Mr. King with an
Calvin King visited USDA's local Lunenburg
County Farm Services Agency (FSA) office
in Kenbridge, VA in January 1981 to apply
for a loan to purchase 27 acres of timber
land adjacent to the farm where his parents
had been sharecroppers since the early 1900s.
The FSA official refused to even provide
King with an application, telling him that
no funds were available for his loan. "It
was common knowledge that certain white
farmers got better treatment. Everyone knew
that the white farmers were getting loans
while [black farmers] weren't. They were
not far from us, just down the road, and
it was just generally known that they were
getting money from [USDA] but we weren't,"
King joins the Civil Rights Settlement
and is denied the "automatic"
payment, appeal still pending more than
five years later
After learning of the Pigford v. Veneman
class action settlement, King sought restitution
by joining the settlement in June 1999.
He was assigned to Track A, the "automatic"
$50,000 track, but his claim was ultimately
denied. USDA's refusal to provide King with
an application became a major obstacle in
his case. He was left with no record that
he applied for a loan, "If they'd offered
an application, at least they'd have something
on file. When you buy a car or go for a
job at least they give you an application
to fill out."
USDA's practice of withholding information
on similarly situated white farmers who
received loans also became an insurmountable
hurdle for King. USDA refused to provide
any information to King, despite having
the data within its own files. King attempted
to navigate the maze of public documents
to prove his case, but failed. King named
two similarly situated white farmers in
his claim, one of whom he was certain was
receiving loans, and another whom he was
reasonably sure received loans and owned
a large farm several miles from his parents'
farm. He later learned that one of the farmers
was actually leasing the farm to a white
neighbor who operated the next farm over
and several other farms in the area, "Had
I listed [the other farmer] I would've been
ok, but since I named [the land owner],
I got denied. That was a mistake I made
with the name, and that resulted in the
denial. It seemed logical at the time that
I assumed [the landowner] was receiving
the [USDA] loans. But it's hard to tell
in this area where one farm begins and another
ends or who is farming what or who owns
what. There are no clear boundaries like
in the suburbs."
Calvin went back to the Kenbridge, VA FSA
office in May 2000 attempting to define
the boundaries between the farms, and met
with further obstruction. "I wanted
to demonstrate to them that the two farm
operations were connected just to show how
I had gotten the name confused. In the process,
the FSA office denied me some basic information
that should've been released, such as whether
or not the farms were connected, and how.
And who was the farmer that farmed the land
that year," says King. He explains,
"It seems to me that they withheld
information that they should not have withheld
from me ... but I was not given anything."
Ironically, says King, "the FSA office
in Fredericksburg, VA ... provid[ed] me
with information ... about two black farmers
... if the black farmers' information was
released to me, the white farmers' information
should have also been released."
In November 2000, King challenged the denial
of his claim. Although his settlement claim
was filed over five years ago, no decision
has been made on his appeal, and Calvin's
case remains unresolved today.
King files new complaint for retaliation
by USDA for his participation in the settlement
King faced retaliation due to his participation
in the Pigford civil rights settlement,
and filed a subsequent discrimination complaint
with USDA. King explains, "I filed
an additional complaint against USDA because
of ongoing discrimination I experienced
after the Pigford suit, and probably because
of my involvement in the Pigford suit. After
Pigford, I was continually discriminated
against." King's experience is that
"USDA is not applying the same standard
to black farmers that it is applying to
white farmers, and that constitutes an act
of discrimination against me and all black
farmers. USDA law is the same all over the
country. The law is the law, and it should
be applied equally throughout the land."