Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Dear Congressionals, Are You Listening?

March 14, 2023

Dear Senators and Representatives:

I am contacting you via phone and mail since you represent citizens of the State of _____and some of its most vulnerable citizens are under attack in Washington, DC by the USDA.

My understanding is that Texas has the most African American farmers of any state.  As Black farmers, their cases of malfeasance by employees of the USDA/FSA go back well into the 1960s, and that is just for those farmers who are still alive. Many have died in these battles for justice. That said, the latest Ag Census data indicate that there are 48,697 Black producers in the US and that there are 35,470 Black-operated farms. This document lists the number of Black producers by state: Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, Arkansas, and Tennessee. There has been a significant decline from 1920 where there were upwards of 950,000 Black farmer operators and from 1910 when Black farmers farmed 19 million acres. The losses have been horrendous and much of it is due to the malfeasance of the USDA. These losses from the land and productivity of the land are estimated at $326 billion.

Our specific aim has been to find debt relief and compensatory damages for what is known as the “Pigford Legacy Farmers,” or those who did not find debt relief under Pigford v. Glickman. To this end, a large group of us met in front of the White House on March 1, demonstrating near the anniversary of the Fairness Hearing for the Pigford v. Glickman case before Judge Friedman, March 2, 1999. We believe now, as we believed then, that Pigford was a debacle and that Black farmers were worse off before than after. Pigford promised either a $50K sum plus debt relief under track A, or a sum not determined plus debt relief under Track B. Over 22,000 applied for inclusion in the class, over 15,000 prevailed for inclusion, and only 371 received debt relief. In the face of decades of verifiable discrimination, debt relief is precisely what they wanted and precisely what they did not receive.

One sign from the Demonstration that resonated deeply with me was this one:  "We gave you the White House. You gave us Tom Vilsack." 

As we all know, Congress had  appropriated 120% of the indebtedness of socially disadvantaged farmer and ranchers within the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. These funds were for debt relief and taxes for those farmers who had suffered discrimination in the farm/services division. However, Secretary Vilsack, in our opinion “slow-walked” the process and allowed 12 white farmer class action law suits to be filed and for two courts to issue restraining orders against the USDA that disallowed them to pay Black farmers and other SDFR.

In fact, many of us protested against Vilsack’s appointment long before he was appointed, but President Biden ignored us. In fact, we participated with the Biden/Harris transition team and were told at one point in the process that what we wanted, “race-based remediation to a historical anti-black process” was “unconstitutional." We told President Biden and Secretary Vilsack about this.

Then, in 2022, Congress signed the Inflation Reduction Act which made allocations available to “distressed” farmers and ranchers, a race neutral language that circumvented frivolous law suits. In that bill, $3.1 billion was allocated for “distressed” farmers to bring them into compliance with their debts with USDA/FSA for those with guaranteed loans. It also allocated $2.2 billion for farmers who can show that they were discriminated against. The Ag Secretary is slow-walking these processes as well.

At this point, Secretary Vilsack has released $800 million to approximately 11,000 “distressed” farmers and ranchers, and our group, The Justice for Black Farmers Group, can only identify nine Black farmers who have received partial or full relief from their debts. We also are aware that they are receiving 1099s from the IRS. This is reprehensible. Their debts are paid off and now they are under the economic boot of the IRS. We know that there are approximately 3,000 Black farmers whose indebtedness is under $210 million. We think he is “cherry-picking” farmers and that this will enhance his credibility. We are not buying it.

There is much more history to Secretary Vilsack’s acts of malfeasance than we can discuss in one letter. However, my blog outlines a number of matters related to him. We believe that he is owned by Big Ag. In fact, a simple google of funds released to various agencies within Big Ag will validate this point.

There are numerous investigative reports about the failures of USDA to honor its contractual obligations to Black producers, and the consistent theme is that Secretary Vilsack has failed us.

We, therefore, would like for you to stand with us, join in concert with our voices to President Biden, to accept the resignation of Secretary Tom Vilsack, and put in that position someone who can settle these matters once and for all. Black America is watching. 


Waymon R. Hinson, Ph.D.
Representative, Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association
Representative, Justice for Black Farmers Group
Representative, USDA Coalition of Minority Employees

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Demonstration at the White House, March 1, 2023: My Personal Reflections

The event had been scheduled for quite some time. It was designed to serve as the anniversary of the Fairness Hearing before Judge Friedman on March 2, 1999. We believed then as we strongly believe now that the Pigford v. Glickman Consent Decree was a gross miscarriage of justice. White America thinks Black farmers made off like bandits in Pigford I and Pigford II, but those walking closely with Black farmers know the truth, and that brutal truth is that most Black farmers are worse off now than they were before Pigford I. 

So, my wife, Charla, and I organized our schedules, worked on our flights, and made our way to Washington, DC. Flying into Reagan International was stirring as we flew over and saw the most prominent of the buildings of the US government, knowing that we were there to protest in front of the White House. 

Charla oftentimes attends these sorts of things with me. Not only is she my Beloved, she is our partner in fighting for justice. We live in a red state and go to a red church, and she has red friends, so she knows well these complicated matters. 

We gathered with old friends and new friends in the lobby of the Cambria Hotel Riverfront DC. It was a sight to behold, folks we had not seen since 2005 or 2008 or 2019. It was an inspired and inspiring gathering. 

Some 75 or so of us gathered for dinner later that night. We heard from key leaders, Lawrence Lucas, Tracy Lloyd McCurty, and Lloyd Wright, members of The Justice for Black Farmers Group. We got our marching orders. We heard a short speech from Danny Davis, D(VA), a man who knows well the plight of the Black farmer. 

For those who follow this blog, I have mentioned before these three soldiers in the war against discrimination: Lawrence Lucas, Representative, Justice for Black Farmers Group, and President Emeritus, USDA Coalition of Minority Employees; Tracy LLoyd McCurty, J.D., Director of the Black Belt Justice Center; and Lloyd Wright, Black farmer and former Director, Office of Civil Rights, USDA. 

We knew that Wednesday would be a long, tiring day, so we dispersed after dinner. 

We met up early the next morning over breakfast and then shortly thereafter to get our assigned protest signs. Again, it was an energetic crowd as we moved about, chatted with folks, and talked about the day. 

We arrived in front of the White House at about 11:30 and assembled on the sidewalk with our banner and our signs and the Demonstration was underway. "We Gave You the White House. You Gave Us Tom Vilsack," "No Check No Vote," "USDA The Last Plantation," and others. We chanted as we moved behind the large banner. We had only one-half hour to create a ruckus, and that we did. Many passers by stopped and watched and some even asked questions. 

We could not stop. We were not to use megaphones, which we did, which was against policies. At one point an angry female police officer got in my face saying, "Sir, if you don't keep moving, we may arrest you." I simply stepped down onto Pennsylvania Avenue, and then the woman demanded documents from Tracy and thankfully Lloyd had brought copies. That was an intense moment. Senior citizens had to stop and rest, and they did so with their signs next to the fence with the White House in the background. We observed what must have been Secret Service Agents on the roof top, dressed in black with guns and cameras. We wondered if they could hear us. They could certainly see us. That's what we wanted, for the White House and the US Department of Agriculture to know that we were there. We had caught wind that the USDA told two HBCUs not to attend the demonstration. 

Then at noon, we stepped off the side walks and onto Pennsylvania Avenue, with documents in hand from the US Park Service, and began our public relations event. We encircled the speakers, the microphone, and the amplifier. We listened as speakers stayed on task, "Tom Vilsack must go!" For over an hour, farmers and advocates spoke both to and in front of the White House. Some of us referenced the USDA, its malfeasance, and the White House, and President Biden's blindness to what Secretary Vilsack was doing. Secret Service folks circled around us. One employee of the USDA stood over and watched us from the vantage point of the trees of Lafayette Park. We were adjacent to the church where former President Trump stood, surrounded by staffers and police, holding the Bible upside down. 

Our mantra was clear: "Vilsack must go!" "No check, no vote!" Black farmers, families, and advocates are tired of being sick and tired and waiting for the USDA and the White House to do right, to rectify decades of gross and calculated discrimination. 

At one point, as a group of kids high fived the Secret Service agent, I stepped to him and quipped, "I guess it's ok to talk to you," and he laughed and we chatted for a good five minutes about who we were, where we were from, and why we were there. His face and voice softened and he listened respectfully, and at that moment one of his co-workers, a young, Black woman walked up to us. I shook both of their hands and walked back to the group. 

Shortly thereafter, Lawrence Lucas, the gentleman in charge of keeping things going, motioned from beneath his mask with his right index finger. That signal was for me to get prepared to speak. I was not on the speaker list. I suspected that he might ask me to speak up, and so I did. I spoke a few words of appreciation about being with them. I spoke about Gary Grant, BFAA President, and I spoke about the occupant of the White House, and how White America does not know about Black farmers and their struggles, and I voiced my commitment to telling white people every chance I could get about stories of Black farmers. The applause and shouts said that they got it. Charla actually recorded it for me to hear later. I'm thankful that I didn't come off like some misguided, ineloquent fool. 

At about 1:15, we divided into two buses, those going back to the hotel, and those delegates who were going to the Hart Senate Building to meet with the senators. As we drove there, it was inspiring to visit with Earl Ijames, curator for the North Carolina History Museum, and his efforts to keep stories alive, working his farm with plants and crops that had actually originated in Africa and brought here by the enslaved. 

We arrived at the Hart Senate Building, made it through check in procedures which were much like the airports, and moved up to the fifth floor to meet in the conference room with staffers and eventually Senators Warren and Booker. I was pleased to finally be able to meet Senator Booker's staffer, Adam Zipkin, a gentleman who had worked for him for 25 years, way back when he was mayor of Newark. We embraced and shared words of mutual encouragement. We had met up many times via Zoom meetings, but face to face was inspirational. 

I moved to the back of the conference room and stood along the wall. Seating for us was at a premium. We had planned for 18, but some 35 showed up, and we were not going to tell the farmers that they could not come. 

Dr. Dwayne Goldmon, equity advisor for Secretary Vilsack, had somehow gotten invited to the meeting. We were mad. As we began our meeting, he attempted to take center stage and would have said and done more if our leaders had not challenged him to cease and desist, my words not theirs. It got hot in the room. Tension was at a feverish pitch and rightfully so. An interloper had arrived whom we had not invited. 

Then at about 4:00 pm, Senator Warren came in. She brought with her a spirit of calm, one of gracious respect and concern, and for about 30 minutes she listened intently to our concerns. We felt her compassion. We thanked her for her work in developing her policy about Black farmers. At one point, I commented something like:  "Senator Warren, thank you for allowing us the privilege of working with your policy team on your policy for Black farmers (She commented, "They are here."). It is obvious that you are meeting today with the survivors. We have many who are not here who died prematurely in the fight for justice. While it is important to talk about these matters, it is also important to know that decades of relentless discrimination wears people out, and they die prematurely." It felt to me like she was listening as I spoke that which was both on my heart and in my head, so to speak. 

After she left the USDA Equity Advisor took center stage again. Again, he was challenged. 

Around 4:45ish, Senator Booker came in, a big, imposing, kind, and generous spirited man. He spoke a few words, listened to things, and then assigned his staffer, Adam, to secure information from USDA that they were stone-walling us from receiving, payments by race, and not by state that had been released earlier and published by NPR. 

After he departed to go vote, we continued for a bit, the shouting match continued and then Lloyd Wright pulled the meeting to a close when he, as I recall, pulled down his mask and said, "And I have a few things I want to say in closing." He went on and called for Vilsack's resignation. He had worked for Vilsack and knows that he will say one thing and do another. 

From there we departed, said a few goodbyes, and went to hail our taxi back to the hotel. I shared a ride with Lawrence. We talked about the meeting and how Goldmon got it. A curious point was that Lawrence recognized that our taxi driver was from Ethiopia, a country he had lived in for five years decades ago. They talked in the language of Ethiopia. I was clueless as to what they were saying, but I enjoyed the generosity of spirit between my friend and the taxi driver. 

I was just a little disappointed that Charla had not been able to attend the meeting in the Senator's office. 

We chatted in the hotel lobby, disbanded for the evening, and then shortly thereafter I met in the restaurant with Charla and our good friends, Robbie and Heather, who wanted to know about how things went. With Charla and Robbie (before Heather arrived), I shared "content and process," family systems language they understood. We both laughed and groaned. 

Shortly thereafter, Alfred Gross sat the table with us, and we wrapped up the day by swapping stories of hunting, field dressing deer, family shennanagins, skunks, and other uproariously funny stories. 

The following morning, we met for breakfast and conversation and then headed out to the Museum of African American History and Culture. We had a limited amount of time and wound up  on the top floor enjoying the history of Black singers and performers. 

Then, as we left the hotel, Rod Bradshaw, farmer from Kansas, rode with us to Reagan, talking serious matters along the way, including his conversation with Goldmon both the previous day and on this particular day about the heinous practice of the federal government doing "administrative offsets," or taking percentages of Black farmers' income from them monthly. We understood that Goldmon said that this practice is illegal. We shall see. 

From there, Charla and I arrived at Reagan, settled in to wait for our flight and for the hours that would pass before we could arrive home. We did arrive despite 80 mile per hour winds, overturned tractor trailer rigs, and a delayed landing because of the bad weather. 

We knew that we had much to ponder and much to discuss. 

Here are some photos from the day. 

Charla Hinson, advocate for Black farmers, wore what I think is the most provocative sign, "WE GAVE YOU THE WHITE HOUSE. YOU GAVE US TOM VILSACK."

We marched up and down the side walk for 1/2 hour, chanting as we went. 
Farmers and advocates "wearing" the signs with our distinct messages.
Senator Elizabeth Warren listens to the farmers and advocates.
Senator Booker speaks to the group of Black farmers and advocates. 

Lloyd Wright, former Director, Office of Civil Rights, offers his parting shots while Eddie Slaughter waves his hand, and Edith Gross, Michael Stovall, Tracy Lloyd McCurty, and others look on. 

Below, a Black farmer voices his opinion by the sign he wears.

Lawrence Lucas, Michael Stovall, and Waymon Hinson at the hotel. 

Weary feet and bodies, but the signs speak the truth. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Dear White America: A Primer for Understanding Black Farmers, Discrimination, and Land Loss

Dear White Americans:

Understanding the trauma of land loss for Black farmers is oftentimes beyond our comprehension. It is not normally within our experiences nor scope of understanding. In this brief, bulleted summary, I hope to line out key events and facts about why we are pressing for debt relief and compensation for damages done to Black farmers. As a white senior citizen, I am respectfully asking white America to take off our blinders and see the truth of what it means to farm while Black in America.

  • Black Africans who were primarily agrarian were captured and enslaved oftentimes with the help of warring tribes. 
  • They were stuffed into slave ships sardine-style and brought to the Americas, some 400,000 of them to cities in the United States. This is called the "Middle Passage." Many died and many wanted to die. 
  • They were herded like animals and then sold on the auction blocks to the highest bidder.
  • They were then taken and introduced oftentimes with violence into the culture of the plantation where they would live out their days or perhaps sold down the road to another enslaver. 
  • Some 835,000 enslaved Africans were later sold into the deep South as slave trading was outlawed by the US Congress in the early 1800s. 
  • Enslavers appropriated the crops they had grown in Africa and used them to enhance their holdings: cotton, corn, okra, rice, and various melons were imported via seeds that the enslaved brought with them.
  • They were owned as property by their enslavers. 
  • As the price of cotton escalated, so did the demand for enslaved people to work the land, and the price for an enslaved worker also escalated. 
  • The planter class with 15 or more enslaved people would be the millionaires or even billionaires of today. 
  • Many Black farmers can trace their family stories back to days of enslavement. 
  • "My DNA is on the land," or "farming is in my blood," or "I was born to farm."
  • At Freedom, once the war was over, all enslaved people were free to move on. Some did and some stayed and worked for their enslavers, and eventually the sharecropping system developed.
  • By 1910, Black Americans had become prodigious land owners. By 1920, 950,000 Black Americans owned approximately 22,000 farms, and they owned 19 million acres. 
  • They had become landowners despite organized lynchings, Black codes, refusals by white land owners to sell the best lands, and they worked against all odds to hold on to their property.
  • In 2017 there were only 35,470 Black-owned farms with 4,673,140 acres. 
  • In 2017, Black producers comprised 1.4% of all 3.4 million producers.
  • This precipitous land loss is explained to a large degree by various acts of discrimination by employees of the USDA in the Family Service Agency at the local county level. 
  • These are facts supported by eleven reports that were developed internally by the USDA or by outside experts who did their research.
  • The USDA employees acted out their racism by ignoring, denying loans, refusing to send them on up the change of command, giving Black farmers too little funding too late in the crop season, and then foreclosing on them when they could not pay their loans off in a timely fashion. While white farmers were being offered disaster relief funds in times of drought or flooding, Black farmers were neither informed nor offered the same assistance. Restructuring of loans, a commonly held practice for farmers and ranchers, was not offered to Black farmers. At times even the checks written by the USDA were held in file folders until the land was foreclosed upon. This only scratches the surface of acts of malfeasance (wrong doings) done by white USDA officials. 
  • Research the Eddie and Dorothy Wise story for verification of these practices. 
  • Complaints began to be filed with the USDA as early as the 1960s, but in 1983, President Reagan dismantled the Office of Civil Rights. Complaints were thrown into trash cans or ignored or misfiled in the filing system of the Office of Civil Rights, per former Ag Sec Espy. 
  • The Office of Civil Rights was reestablished under Lloyd Wright, Director, and Mike Espy, Secretary of the USDA.
  • Between 1997 and 1999, 15 Black farmers settled with the USDA and Department of Justice. These cases had "findings of discrimination" and they were offered debt relief, compensation for pain and suffering, and promises for "priority of services." Some of these things were not offered as promised.
  • Economists estimate that Black farmers have lost in land and productivity of the land to the tune of $326 billion to upwards of $1 trillion.
  • The Pigford Consent Decree was confirmed in 1999 and 22,551 applied and 15,645  prevailed, but only 371 received debt relief. 
  • Pigford II was later developed but most of the Black farmers received nothing. 
  • All during this time, white farmers received most of the funding for subsidies and other programs, but Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, Asian Americans, and women were denied. Class Action Suits were filed on behalf of each of these groups and eventually settled. 
  • Under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, Congress passed a bill that would address centuries of discrimination, but 12 white farmer class actions suits, along with the Ag Sec slow-walking the process, derailed compensation of debt relief plus 20% for taxes for "socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers." 
  • Then, in 2022 Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act which shifted compensation to "distressed" farmers and ranchers, in a "race neutral" manner so as to avoid the courts. The Ag Sec is now providing funds to white farmers but little to nothing for Black farmers. 
  • In the IRA of 2022, funds were also available to farmers who had been discriminated against with a cap of $500,000, a large sum to many of us, but to farmers who have been fighting foreclosure and discrimination since the 1960s, this amount of money is a drop in the bucket. 
  • We know that approximately 3,000 Black farmers are indebted to the tune of $210 million, but the Ag Sec is not doing what the bill promised. 
  • During President Trump's term, white farmers received 97% of the Coronavirus Relief Funds of CFAP, or $3,398 for white farmers by comparison to $422 for Black farmers. 
  • The first six litigants in the white class action suits which in 2021 claimed "reverse discrimination" benefitted greatly. Those first six litigants received $523,996 during a five year period. The counties in which their farms and ranches are located received $1,200,062,666. If 1.4% of the farmers in those counties are Black, and that is likely too high of an estimate, then the lawsuits were not legitimate as under subsidies, coronavirus relief funds, and the failed tax war with China, the white farmers did very well. 
  • One final thought: Black farmers experience significant loss of life and health when discrimination is ongoing and relentless. 
This is only a short, concise list. There is more. Follow this blog and Waymon Hinson, or research the names Stucki and Rosenberg or read the following: 

Here is one painful investigative article. See it here.  $326 billion dollars. Painful. 

The Environmental Working Group has some great research. Check out this link. 

 I have written a couple of things, but this article is the most extensive. Check it out here. 

The documentary, "I'm Just a Layman in Pursuit of Justice:" White Farmers Fight Against USDA, is important for truth-telling. See that link here.    

And, these are the reasons why we Demonstrated in front of the White House. President Biden can instruct his Secretary of Ag, Tom Vilsack, to do right by Black farmers, to implement in an appropriate fashion the debt relief to "distressed" Black borrowers and compensate them for decades of discrimination. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

White Farmer, White Farmer

White Farmer, White Farmer
Waymon Hinson
February 22, 2023
White farmer, white farmer
Why are you so mean?
You got your land and more
You want a lot more it seems.
White farmer, white farmer
From where do you originate?
From England, Ireland, Scotland
From north to south you’ll spread your hate?
White farmer, white farmer
How much land do you need?
Are you really seizing theirs?
Why you all bound up with greed?
White farmer, white farmer
You know you got all the benefits.
You sit at the head of the table,
Black folks see your land grabbin’ blitz.
White farmer, white farmer
Do you know Jesus as Lord?
Then why do you do what you do
To seize their land by crook or the sword?
White farmer, white farmer
We know that you are in cahoots.
We see your wicked machinations
Lying awake at night, counting your fruits.
White farmer, white farmer
This land is your land.
You take that oh so literally so
With whom do you stand?
White farmer, white farmer
Friend of the county and the banks.
Black folks fear that you’re comin’
That you know how to fill in the blanks.
White farmer, white farmer
We know that you also work hard,
But your skin what’s that cost you.
When are you ever on your guard?
White farmer, white farmer
Got any conscience inside of you?
You watch them auction their land
And then what do you actually do?
White farmer, white farmer
You got your money, been saving a lot.
You sit on the sidelines at the auction.
We see your sinister plot.
White farmer, white farmer
How do you feel?
You got that land so cheap.
How does it feel to steal?
White farmer, white farmer
You know what I mean.
Don’t feign your ignorance
As you pick that carcass clean.
White farmer, white farmer
Pay day some day is what we know
When you meet your maker
Your grubby hands you’ll show.
White farmer, white farmer
Is it all worth the chase
To take someone’s land
Because you know their race?

White farmer, white farmer
You got them in your hands
Vilsack Biden and Big Ag
Stop trying to steal our lands. 

Monday, February 13, 2023

Fund Raising Appeal for the March 1 "Demonstration in Front of the White House"

Yes, this is a fund raising appeal. Yes, your donations go through a 501.c.3 and then are accumulated via another 501.c.3. The Black Belt Justice Center is on fire for justice. The Network for Good is a collaborator with them.

The short verse is that we are fund raising for the March 1 "Demonstration at the White House." A large number of us will venture into DC via car, truck, bus, or plane, and we need help with transportation, meals, and lodging. This is not an ordinary event, rather it is an extraordinary event. We have gone on record for quite a while now that Black farmers of our land continue to be marginalized by USDA policies and procedures, led by the Secretary of the USDA. Congress has implemented two bills that offer relief for those discriminated against, the ARPA of 2021 and the IRA of 2022. Both have been "slow-walked." We have written letter upon letter to the Secretary and to the White House. We have been ignored. 

Followers of this page know that I've written quite a few words about the issues facing Black farmers in the current political climate and the malfeasance of the USDA historically and in the present. Feel free to scroll down and see and read those pages. 

This event at Lafayette Park will make our presence known to the President and to the Secretary.

As you know, travel costs are up these days. The Black Belt Justice Center is at the center of fund raising efforts, and for its support we are grateful. Hit this link: https://acresofancestry.networkforgood.com/.../100534....
Hit "DONATE" and then select the amount you are contributing, and then scroll down to "Apply My Donation To" and select "Black Farmers Demonstration at the White House," and then the rest will be clear. PM me if you have any questions or problems. This way, your donations go directly to the Network for Good and this particular cause. Charla and I will be there. We hope to see people you have helped send. Thank you.

Dear President Biden

February 17, 2023

President Joe Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President: 

Surely you agree with me that we live in perilous times with threats from Russia,  domestic threats from balloons from China and other places, and threats to democracy here in our own country. While I think you are, by and large, handling those threats well, there is one threat that you, sir, are not handling well, and that is the prompt for this open letter to you. 

You are mishandling the Black farmer issue. I am disappointed. I am bitterly disappointed and disillusioned with the manner in which you have handled the Black farmers of our land and their city cousins. Country cousins and city cousins are connected, know each other, and talk to each other. 

We were very hopeful back in the day when your campaign looked to be going down the tubes, when Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina stepped up and endorsed you, and we saw the winds of your campaign change. We saw outstanding successes among the Democratic Party in Georgia for both you and Reverend Senator Raphael Warnock.

Then, Mr. President, we began to wince at what some of that change meant. We had fully engaged the campaigns of Senators Warren, Booker, Sanders, and Warnock, and we engaged with Mr. Mike Bloomberg. As the ticket of Biden/Harris won, we then engaged the agriculture transition team. Much to our surprise, the gentleman with whom we had been working on this team and your policies was not actually the person in charge. We realized that former Ag Secretary Thomas Vilsack was pulling strings from behind. We were advocating for changes within the USDA, for accountability and transparency, and for full debt relief for aggrieved Black farmers. Then, in one particular meeting we heard that what we wanted was "unconstitutional." One of your team members, an attorney, told us that. We were flabbergasted. 

Then, we watched with much interest as a variety of people pressed you both publicly and privately not to appoint Tom Vilsack to another term as Secretary of USDA. Much had been written about the failures of his two terms under President Obama, and despite opposition from congressional folk and the NAACP leadership, the Justice for Black Farmers Group, and the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees, and others, you nominated him anyway. And then we observed the "love fest" at the senate confirmation hearing and I, for one, was nauseated and alarmed. 

We were hopeful despite these things at the beginning of your presidency and now we are not so hopeful. We see where the winds of change have taken us. They have taken us down the road of "Big Ag," and because of that, Vilsack, who is owned by Big Ag, is your Secretary of Ag. We want to know if you indeed are also beholden to Big Ag or is it just Mr. Vilsack. We have our suspicions and we'd like for you to dissuade us of them. We see how Big Ag is getting the major source of funding from USDA. We also see that Vilsack's favored organizations are getting millions of dollars despite there being no open application process. 

What did you miss from the messages of "don't appoint Vilsack?" Was it when you were making decisions about your cabinet? And what other voices did you ignore? What about his previous terms did you respect? What did you anticipate being different under your administration? Were you indebted to Tom Vilsack in some manner? 

Surely you know because your team had done its research that he had an incredibly spotty history: a class action suit by Black state employees in Iowa, extreme favoritism of white, corporate Ag, and a racist, dismissive attitude toward socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. 

Research about Vilsack has been published in numerous places under numerous names such as Lloyd Wright in the Washington Post, Rosenberg and Stucki in numerous publications where investigations are published, and even me here on this blog. 

A painful political cartoon is out in public spaces. It is insulting to you. It shows you as Jim Crow Joe with Black voters in your right hand and Vilsack and Dr. Dwayne Goldmon, his equity advisor, as marionettes on the strings in your left hand. It is insulting and I cringed when I saw it, but the people with whom I work and respect say that "a picture is worth a thousand words" and have made in public in various social media. 

Your appointee knows that we are displeased with him. You know that we are displeased with him. We have written both of you numerous letters. We met with him and members of his team several months back, but he did not listen to us. Instead he spent a few minutes filibustering as to his accomplishments. That is not why we called the meeting. In a follow up letter we told him so. 

We believed that he slow-walked the process under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and by doing so, he allowed time for 12 or 13 class action suits by white farmers to be filed in various courts around the country. My own research into the USDA database shows that not only have they NOT been discriminated against, but that the were very successful at receiving subsidies, MFP, and CFAP funds as well as the counties within which their farms and ranches are located. This research was on the first 6 litigants. There was no need to go any further although the data is there. 

Even though the language was modified under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 to "distressed" borrowers, from the appearance of things, most of those funds have gone to white borrowers and to very few Black "distressed" borrowers. At last note, Vilsack has wiped out the debts of 11,000 borrowers to the tune of $800M. We know of less than 10 Black farmers who have been recipients of that relief. We have little hope that he will disburse the $2.2B for those have experienced discrimination. We understand that he is actually trying to change the ways the second set of funds is to be managed. 

We have it on good evidence that Mr. Vilsack thinks that distributing millions to favored organizations for technical assistance and to 1890s have been good for Black farmers. He is misguided and his assertions are insulting. Until Black farmers receive relief for the USDA's blatant malfeasance and discrimination toward them, injustice and injury will continue to live on. 

As you may recall, it was Black farmers who reluctantly formed the Class Action Suit, Pigford v. Glickman. Only 4.8% of those successful litigants received debt cancellation. Those Black farmers have continued to vote for Democratic presidents only to see their hopes for remedies to USDA's discrimination dashed on the shores of Washington DC. I personally participated in a mediation hearing before USDA and DOJ in 1997 and learned first hand how the federal government treats Black farmers. It was not a pretty sight. 

We were hoping to see things different this time. While Senator Warren's policy for Black farmers was thorough and well publicized, we had to hunt via the internet for your policy. Your policy was less than satisfactory by comparison. 

Bottom line, Mr. President, we gave you the White House. You gave us Tom Vilsack. 

His racist policies continue. Sadly, you are now implicated in the process. His efforts are only putting lipstick on a pig. We know it's still a pig. 

The Democratic Party did well in the midterms. Congratulations on that. We fear that similar results may not be in the cards for the upcoming general elections. We are suspicious but that your reelection may indeed be hanging on by a thread.

City and country cousins talk to each other. They know how your secretary continues to favor unchecked, corporate Ag to the neglect of Black farmers of the land. 

There is time to turn that around, but there is not much time. The clock is ticking. 

We are hoping, praying, and demonstrating for a better day. We hope you will meet us in those spaces of hope, prayer, and conversation. 


Waymon R. Hinson, Ph.D.
Representation, Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association 
Representative, Justice for Black Farmers Group
Representative, USDA Coalition of Minority Employees

Friday, January 27, 2023

To Whom Should This Post be Addressed: Biden, Vilsack, the CBC, or the People?

We have come a long way from there to here and we have actually gone nowhere. It's like we are running in place, or maybe stuck in quick sand.  Listening in on blog talk radio with Lawrence Lucas, Ramsess, Michael Stovall, Carolyn Jones, and Frank Taylor reminded me of how far we've not come the last 100 years plus and the obstacles the USDA puts in our way. 

Early on, complaints had been filed for decades to the USDA Office of Civil Rights, but to no avail. Sadly enough, President Reagan essentially closed down this office in 1981, and the complaints were just tossed into the garbage can or at best, filed or maybe mis-filed, in an out of the way office there in USDA. Former Ag Secretary Michael Espy confirmed this in an interview with him. 

During the late '90s, 15 Black farmers settled their cases with the USDA/DOJ. They received compensation for their injuries, debt write-off, and promises of priority services including eligibility for future services. The documentary done by Shoun Hill and Waymon Hinson chronicles those stories, of 9 of those 15 Black farmers along with other key persons. The settlements were very uneven, all, in my opinion, due to the meddling of the Office of General Counsel. 

My opinion is that the USDA and DOJ realized that serious allegations from Black farmers were coming, so a combination of events and people resulted in another debacle called the Pigford Class action suit. Unfortunately, the attorneys waived discovery which led to more pain and suffering.  In short, 22,551 applied for Track A and 15,645 prevailed. They received $50K and promises of debt relief. At the end of the day, only 371 actually received debt relief. It was a bad deal for Black farmers who just wanted to farm and to hold on to their land. Large numbers of Black farmers lost their farms, their families, and their health. Many have passed on to the ancestors. We know many of them. With each death, we are sucker-punched. Some filed under Track B, and a few prevailed there. Then, later, Pigford II was opened, and, again, a few prevailed there, but not many. Who actually got the money from those two class action suits?  The attorneys, but that's a story for another day. 

For a summary of these events, check out what I wrote back in 2018.  More details are found there. 

Our efforts since then have been consistently oriented toward justice for this group of Black farmers. We have not hesitated one iota. 

When Senator Warren declared in 2018 that Black land loss was a function of heirs property, that Black people did not have clear titles to their land, had not paid their taxes, and other matters, we protested directly to her. We respectfully declared that the USDA was the culprit in Black land loss. She and her team believed us. As she was a candidate for the presidency, she spelled out a strong policy for Black farmers

Although she was not elected, she continued to advocate for Black farmers. Along with other senators, she crafted the Justice for Black Farmers Act of 2020, knowing that under President Trump, it would not see the light of day, and that it would be resubmitted to congress the first year after his presidency ended. 

The Justice for Black Farmers Group was formed. 

And Booker, Warren, Warnock, and others worked on it. But it never was passed into law. 

Instead, various features of the Bill were moved into the American  Rescue Plan Act of 2021 with the assistance of Senator Warnock. Within that bill was debt relief for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers to the tune of 120%. Here is that text: "The Secretary shall provide a payment in an amount up to 120 percent of the outstanding indebtedness of each socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher as of January 1, 2021, to pay off the loan directly or to the socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher (or a combination of both), on each" direct loans or guaranteed loans. 

We have accused Secretary Tom Vilsack of slow-walking implementation procedures which allowed 12 class action suits of white farmers across the country to scream out "reverse discrimination." This article lines out the key dates from Warnock's introduction of the Emergency Relief Act on March 3, 2021 up until the first judge issued a restraining order on June 10, 2021. Given that we live in the computer age and that the USDA has an internal system that covers all relevant information on farmers of all colors, it is apparent that Vilsack's dallying at the door allowed these white farmers enough time to gather up their attorneys, one of whom had worked in the Trump White House and was in charge of developing his immigration policies. While they hollered out "reverse discrimination," a perusal of the USDA data for subsidies and other benefits for farmers and ranchers, shows that the first six litigants were not only NOT discriminated against, they were huge beneficiaries of the USDA's generosity in terms of subsidies, coronavirus relief funds, and Trump's failed tariff war with China. The numbers are quite staggering both for the farmers and ranchers themselves and the counties within which they are located. 

After the USDA opted not to fight these lawsuits aggressively in court, other lawsuits were filed included a couple by the Cowtown Foundation out of Tennessee. Those are still lingering in the judge's chambers apparently. 

Also, the Senate got busy under the leadership of Booker, Warnock, and others, and submitted pieces within the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. This time around, apparently in an effort to thwart the efforts of attorneys and folks from the previous Bill, the language was changed to "distressed" borrowers. The criteria for "distressed" was left to the discretion of Secretary Vilsack. $3.1B were allocated for this group of farmers and ranchers. Additionally, $2.2B were allocated to compensate for discriminatory actions on the part of USDA if that could be proven. It can without a doubt. 

What is missing from this piece of legislation just as it was in the previous legislation is that of tax burdens. If a farmer/rancher receives "payments," not debt cancellation or forgiveness, an important distinction, the principle would be taxable, but not the interest. That means that these folks would be receiving 1099s from the IRS, which could set them back even further than they would have. 

At this point, we understand that the USDA has provided $800M in payments o 11,000 borrowers, and that step-by-step processes are being initiated for 1,600 borrowers whose cases are more "complicated." 

We have evidence that there are approximately 3,000 Black farmers who are currently indebted to the USDA.  We have evidence that the total indebtedness is approximately $210M. 

Our network is nation-wide, and at this point, we know of only seven, yes, SEVEN, Black farmers have received "payments" either partially or completely wiping out their debt. There seems to be no particular rhyme or reason as one has received "payments" of $1.4M and another $200K. 

We are waiting for the Secretary to inform us as to how the $2.2B for discrimination will be managed. He is obligated by law to appointment one or more non-governmental entities to manage these processes. 

Secretary Vilsack is obligated by law to disburse $3.1B to "distressed" farmers regardless of color of skin. We have not evidence that he is doing that for Black farmers. He is obligated by law to designate one or more entities to manage the complications of disbursing $2.2B to those farmers discriminated against. 

Black farmers are tired of waiting. They are "sick and tired of being sick and tired." 

More on this later, but the Congressional Black Caucus speaks loudly by their silence despite having a variety of means of speaking up for Black farmers. 

If you want to hear first hand what the USDA does to Black farmers, scroll down to the bottom of this web page until you see the gentleman in the cotton field. Hit play and for the next 2:30 minutes or so, you'll hear agonizing stories of what it means to farm while Black in America. This is the trailer for the documentary, "I'm Just a Layman in Pursuit of Justice: Black Farmers Fight Against the USDA." 

There is much, much more to this soul wrenching, gut wrenching saga. I just wanted you to be able to read a summary. 

In the meantime, what is the Justice for Black Farmers Group doing? Good question. Go to this web page of Acres of Ancestry and to the community archives and you'll find a substantial group of letters under the signature of Lawrence Lucas, President Emeritus of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees, and Representative, Justice for Black Farmers Group. They are addressed to Secretary Vilsack and to President Biden. You will also find documents to and from other congressional folks. 

This letter in the community archives to President Biden contains a lot of links and resources and is a good summary of our efforts and demands. 

What are we doing? We are knocking on the White House door, demanding attention from the President. Be sure to see the political satire that we include in this letter. It will move your heart. 

We know that his office will forward our correspondence to USDA, which means that we are knocking on the door of Secretary Vilsack. We are demanding justice for Black farmers. We want him gone from USDA. Sooner rather than later is preferred. 

We will not be deterred. This is a righteous cause. We will not be deterred.