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Uneven Ground

The receipts: Documented discrimination against Black farmers

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The history of the support the U.S. government has provided to white farmers and denied Black farmers is well documented. Our project Uneven Ground tells the stories of today's Southern Black farmers. This timeline shows how the deck has been stacked against them and their families as they've worked American soil to feed themselves and the nation.

1865

Farmers getting cotton seed and other supplies which they are buying cooperatively at Roanoke Farms, N.C. in 1938. Part of the U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs at the Library of Congress.
"Hoe culture in the South. Near Birmingham, Alabama. (1936)" Part of the U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs at the Library of Congress.
A farmer in Greene County, Ala., in 1941. Part of the U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs at the Library of Congress.
Farmers getting cotton seed and other supplies which they are buying cooperatively at Roanoke Farms, N.C., in 1938. Farmers near Birmingham, Ala., in 1936 and in Greene County, Ala., in 1941. The photos are part of the U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs at the Library of Congress. Farmers getting cotton seed and other supplies which they are buying cooperatively at Roanoke Farms, N.C., in 1938. Farmers near Birmingham, Ala., in 1936 and in Greene County, Ala., in 1941. The photos are part of the U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs at the Library of Congress. Farmers getting cotton seed and other supplies which they are buying cooperatively at Roanoke Farms, N.C., in 1938. Farmers near Birmingham, Ala., in 1936 (left) and in Greene County, Ala., in 1941. The photos are part of the U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs at the Library of Congress. JOHN VACHON, DOROTHEA LANGE and JACK DELANO

General William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15, issued Jan. 16, promised formerly enslaved people 40 acres. Before President Andrew Johnson rescinded the order later that year after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, 400,000 acres were distributed.

The Homestead Act had passed a few years earlier and gave citizens 160-acre plots. Almost all the recipients were white. By the time that program ended in 1934, 207 million acres had been given away.

1910

Black farmers owned as much as 16 million acres. By the late 1990s, they had lost 90% of that land. In that same period, white farmers lost only 2% of the land they owned. 1910 also marked the peak acreage owned by nonwhite farmers in the South.

1920

The USDA recorded 925,708 Black farm operators, making up 14% of all U.S. farmers. 1920 marked the peak year for the number of nonwhite farmers in the South.

1933

The Great Depression triggered a plunge in crop prices, with cotton retaining less than half of its value. New Deal legislation attempted to address low crop prices by restricting acreage. But that measure also displaced many Black and white tenants and sharecroppers.

Farmers getting cotton seed and other supplies which they are buying cooperatively at Roanoke Farms, N.C. in 1938. Part of the U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs at the Library of Congress.
Farmers getting cotton seed and other supplies which they are buying cooperatively at Roanoke Farms, N.C. in 1938. Part of the U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs at the Library of Congress. John Vachon

1964

The share of Black farm operators fell to 184,004, or 5.8% of 3,157,857 total farm operators.  

1965

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found the Department of Agriculture had discriminated against Black farmers when providing loans and conservation payments. 

1982

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights documented the discrimination that led to the decline of Black farmers and predicted America would have no Black farmers by 2000. The share of Black farm operators fell to 2%.

1983

The Reagan administration dismantled the USDA Office of Civil Rights. It does not reopen until 1996 during the Clinton administration.

1990

A House Committee on Government Operations report found rampant discrimination in USDA loans.

1997

Black farmers filed a class action lawsuit, Pigford v. Glickman, against the USDA. 

The share of Black farm operators fell to 0.9%.

Black farmers protest at Lafayette Park across from the White House in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 22, 1997. Protesters alleged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) denied black farmers equal access to farm loans and assistance based on their race. North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford and 400 other black farmers filed the Pigford v. Glickman (Pigford I) class-action lawsuit against USDA in 1997. The USDA settled Pigford I in 1999.
Black farmers protest at Lafayette Park across from the White House in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 22, 1997. Protesters alleged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) denied black farmers equal access to farm loans and assistance based on their race. North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford and 400 other black farmers filed the Pigford v. Glickman (Pigford I) class-action lawsuit against USDA in 1997. The USDA settled Pigford I in 1999. Anson Eaglin, USDA

1999

Pigford v. Glickman was settled for approximately $1 billion. Most farmers received about $50,000. Accounting for inflation, that's about $89,000, or enough to buy two heavy-duty pickup trucks.

Pauline and Jonny Hughes are seen during a protest organized by Black farmers, Monday, Sept. 9, 2002, in Star City, Ark. The group protested what leaders said were discriminatory loan practices by the Farm Services Administration. Organizers also called for changes in the settlement of a federal class-action lawsuit brought by Black farmers.
Pauline and Jonny Hughes are seen during a protest organized by Black farmers, Monday, Sept. 9, 2002, in Star City, Ark. The group protested what leaders said were discriminatory loan practices by the Farm Services Administration. Organizers also called for changes in the settlement of a federal class-action lawsuit brought by Black farmers. MIKE WINTROATH, ASSOCIATED PRESS

2010

More than a decade after the original Pigford v. Glickman settlement, the Obama administration issued a second $1.25 billion payment, known as Pigford II, for Black farmers who signed up too late for the initial settlement.

Black farmer John Boyd drives his tractor "Justice" near the the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Sept. 20, 2010. Boyd drove from Virginia to Capitol Hill calling on lawmakers on a stand alone vote to pass black farmers bill.
Black farmer John Boyd drives his tractor "Justice" near the the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Sept. 20, 2010. Boyd drove from Virginia to Capitol Hill calling on lawmakers on a stand alone vote to pass black farmers bill. Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP

2017

The share of Black farm operators was 1.4%.

Keynote Speaker Future Farmers of America National President Breanna Holbert during the USDA Black History Month observance at the headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 15, 2018.
Keynote Speaker Future Farmers of America National President Breanna Holbert during the USDA Black History Month observance at the headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 15, 2018. Lance Cheung, U.S. Department of Agriculture

2021

Biden’s American Rescue Plan included $5 billion to cancel the debt of Black farmers. Activists hailed the plan as a landmark. A group of white farmers, however, challenged the debt relief in court and the plan was dropped.

2022

A smaller $3.1 billion debt relief program was included in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, but it was for “underserved farmers and ranchers,” not just Black farmers. A group of Black farmers sued the USDA in October to ask the courts to enforce the debt relief promised in the American Rescue Plan.

More in this series

Uneven Ground: The exceptional stories of the South’s Black farmers

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