Many have heard about the promise of “40 acres and a mule” to former slaves at the end of the Civil War, which never came to fruition. But, when a federal court in Florida “issued a preliminary injunction halting a key part of the Biden administration’s federal stimulus relief package that forgave agricultural debts to farmers of color,” over the summer history appeared to repeat itself, as yet another reparations package that would benefit Black people remains unfulfilled.
This nationwide injunction, the first of its kind, followed a slew of lawsuits filed by white farmers in Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming under the guise of reverse discrimination against white farmers. One such party to the suit is Sid Miller said, “It is just flat wrong…Us Republicans and old white guys, we get accused of being racist all the time, but this is racist by the administration. It couldn’t be a plainer case of racist” AP reports. The numbers, however, tell a different story.
Despite facing an uphill battle against racism and discrimination, by 1910, only two generations since the end of slavery, Black farmers had accumulated over 16 million acres and consisted of around 14% of the farming population. Another generation later, they have less than 4.7 million acres of land, “[a]nd only about one in 100 farmers is Black.” According to agricultural advocates and experts, this 12 million acre loss is due to the combined factors of “systemic racism, biased government policy, and social and business practices that have denied Black Americans equitable access to markets.”
As the White House has pointed out, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities who were already socially disadvantaged. “Previous rounds of coronavirus stimulus to farmers included significant gaps and disparities in the level of assistance, the official said. The American Rescue Plan was intended to address some of the economic damage to” these communities.
For one Black farmer highlighted by the Associated Press, 59-year-old Abraham Carpenter, the federal injunction means he has to “wait and hope for help with about $200,000 in loans even as rain has wiped out hundreds of acres of watermelons, turnips, collards and other crops.”
The Florida court did leave the door open with respect to reversing this decision, but has indicated that it most likely would not. Meanwhile, Cornelius Blanding, executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, is continuing to field calls from those awaiting these much needed funds and also calling for unity amongst the farming community, stating “This isn’t a Black farmer issue, it’s a farmers of color issue. It has been wrongfully framed as Black versus white.”