I rarely rant on this blog, but here goes nothing…
The $1.15Bill that’s coming down the pike from Congress in the Pigford class action settlement for Black and Native farmers might possibly reach less than half of 80,000 affected individuals from farmers to absentee landowners. The average settlement per case is expected to be around $50,000. A cotton crop farmer who spoke at yesterday’s Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference yesterday at Brooklyn College (including keynote Will Allen of Growing Power farms) noted for the crowd that a new cotton picking machine runs upwards of $500,000. $50 G’s will only buy you around 10-25 acres (land around the Gulf post-Katrina is going for upwards of $10,000 an acre, up from $2,000 pre-Katrina). Forget start up costs or new equipment for commercial farming. And the government will recoup plenty of money in the form of taxes on these settlements and debt cancellations which are designated as income to the farmer by the IRS. What anyone would be getting from the settlement is simply pittance.
The farmers who spoke at the conference were appreciative of the gesture extended by Congress, but for most of them, the settlement is only symbolic because it does not provide enough to recoup lost livelihoods or the ensuing lack of interest in farming from younger generations who see the business as a debtors trap.
The true cost of discrimination cannot be accounted for. The Black land ownership has dropped somewhere around 80% from it’s Reconstruction Era peak at 15 million acres. I am not insinuating that all the loss of this land was coerced (although around this peak time, lynchings and intimidation tactics against burgeoning Black communities were at an all-time high of about 100 per year). Plenty people chose to sell land because it seemed the best way to move beyond those “country” roots, get out of debt, and maybe start new lives during the Great Migration. But all of these circumstances were clouded by an air of general hostility to Black advancement, and many of the economic compromises Black land-owners made were either directly or indirectly related to their ability to access the same level of fair, financial opportunity afforded to Whites at the time. We all know this! This is not myth!
This attrition of land ownership since 1910 amounts to a loss of about $25Billion dollars worth of capital (at the lower land valuation rates), not including the potential income generation from that land.
The settlement only covers a period of discrimination from 1981-85. Obviously the gov cannot afford to pay a bill for any time period beyond that! After all, it’s got its credit cards maxed out on the latest war front, and who on Capital Hill really cares about backwoods Black farm folk just barely scratching a living anyway…. didn’t they know it’s time to sell what’s left of their livelihoods to Monsanto, anyway? Oh wait, they probably already have.