USDA Discrimination Against African-American Farmers
“With pressure on small family farms through the 20th century, both whites and African American farmers were struggling to survive in the South. The USDA made its loans dependent on applicants’ credit, but African Americans were discriminated against and had difficulty gaining credit. They had been disenfranchised by southern laws and policies since the turn of the century and excluded from the political system, a condition that was maintained for much of the 20th century. By the early 20th century, southern states had established one-party political rule by whites under the Democratic Party. In Mississippi, where black farmers made up 2/3 of the total of farmers in the Delta in the late 19th century, most lost their land by 1910 and had to go to sharecropping or tenant farming.Divested of political power, African Americans were even less able to gain credit. White planters used their wider political connections and power, and credit to gain monopolistic control of agricultural production.
White dominance of the Democratic Party in the South and their power on important Congressional committees meant that, during the Great Depression, African Americans were overlooked in many programs established to help struggling Americans. The New Deal programs effectively protected white farmers by shifting the risk to black tenants. Many black farmers lost their land by tax sales, eminent domain, and voluntary sales. The USDA has admitted to having discriminated against black farmers. By 1992 the number of black farmers had declined by 98%.
Studies in the late 20th century found that county and state USDA authorities, who were typically white in the South, had historically and routinely discriminated against African-American farmers on the basis of race. A USDA official might overtly deny an equipment loan, telling the black farmer that “all you need is a mule and a plow”, or telling the black farmer that the disaster relief is “too much money for a nigger to receive.” But more often, the USDA used paper-shuffling, delaying loans for black farmers until the end of planting season, approving only a fraction of black farmers’ loan requests, and denying crop-disaster payments for black farmers, which white farmers were routinely granted.”
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