In a press statement, the group marked the 25th anniversary of the filing of the Pigford v. Glickman class action lawsuit, in which black farmers alleged they had suffered racial discrimination in the allocation of USDA loans. The lawsuit was settled in 1999, but was exploited by radical activists as a form of “reparations” for slavery. The compensation system was also riddled with fraud, and many of the black farmers on whose behalf the suit was filed were never helped.
The late Andrew Breitbart brought the Pigford case to broader national attention, noting that then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) had used the promise of further Pigford-style payouts to campaign for black support in rural South Carolina during the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primary. Partly as a result, Obama was able to surpass then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), who had the support of the party establishment in the state — the unions, the churches, and the established party organizations.
While Breitbart was targeted by the left for his insistence on the importance of Pigford, he was later vindicated. In 2013, as Politico noted, the New York Times finally confirmed what Breitbart had been arguing: that the case was riddled with fraud:
The Times' A1, above-the-fold story — which involved Freedom of Information Act requests, interviews with former administration officials and database work — shows how political appointees in the Obama administration's Justice and Agriculture Departments turned a potential government court victory into $1.3 billion settlement for Hispanic and female farmers — some of whom never even claimed discrimination in court. The story also detailed how the feds relied on a flawed payout system for black farmers that was ripe with fraud and revealed that career officials in the Agriculture Department had opposed the program.
The original black farmers' case, called Pigford v. Glickman, and the unfair treatment of many of the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit became a personal cause for Breitbart, who died in 2012 of a heart attack. The conservative provocateur published a December 2010 report about the case, entitled “The Pigford Shakedown,” and also spoke about the program at CPAC and other events.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who the Times portrays as a driving force behind the settlement, said the payments were justified and fraud was minimal. “We weren't just writing checks for the heck of it,” Vilsack told the paper. “People were not treated fairly and, in fact, even today there are damages as a result of folks who weren't treated fairly.”
Despite his dismal track record in Pigford, Vilsack was re-appointed to USDA when President Joe Biden took office.
Now, a group of black farmers is speaking out against him, claiming that he has failed to address the challenges they are facing, and accusing his department of ongoing racial discrimination. In a press statement released Friday, they declared:
This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Pigford v. Glickman class action racial discrimination lawsuit filed by Black farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for decades of anti-Black racism in the delivery of loans, subsidies, disaster assistance, and other program benefits. Despite their steadfast organizing efforts, Black farmers still have not received justice from ongoing institutional discrimination within USDA. Due to the disastrous implementation of the Pigford lawsuit, most Black farmers were left with unconscionable debt, farm foreclosures, and with no legal recourse to save their family farms. Only 4 percent of the $1B settlement went to debt cancellation. Moreover, the Pigford lawsuit did not uproot institutional discrimination within USDA. Consequently, anti-Black racism persists within USDA, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) county offices, the Office of Civil Rights, and the county committee system. For 25 years, thousands of Black farmers have either been foreclosed on or forced to take out loans with private banks to pay off debts with USDA. The USDA also offset Black farmers' tax refunds, social security, disability, and subsidy payments to cover this immoral debt. Over the years, aging Black farmers delayed foreclosures by filing pro se complaints in federal court.
Our Coalition provided President Joe Biden with two tremendous policy recommendations to lessen the economic suffering of Black farmers within his first 100 days in office: debt cancellation for socially disadvantaged farmers and the USDA foreclosure moratorium. Unfortunately, similar to the Pigford lawsuit the implementation of the debt cancellation program has been poorly implemented by Secretary Thomas Vilsack. The American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law in March 2021 by President Joe Biden, provided debt cancellation and a $1B Fund for outreach and other technical assistance services for farmers of color. Of significant importance, section 1006 also included a provision to provide direct payments to farmers who had experienced discrimination from USDA including farmers who had to pay USDA via private bank loans to maintain ownership of their multigenerational family farms.
The loan forgiveness program for black farmers was ultimately struck down by the courts as racially discriminatory. However, the farmers claim that Vilsack has done nothing else to help them, even as he has distributed money to other groups. They cite a series of claims of racial discrimination by Vilsack going back decades, to his governorship in Iowa.
When it came to the Pigford case, Andrew Breitbart refused to give up, confident that his reporting would be vindicated, and motivated by the desire to see justice done for the black farmers who had originally suffered from racial discrimination.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.