America’s Black farmers certainly deserved better

Senator Cory Booker’s Justice for Black Farmers Act envisions a special program for black farmers, based on his claim that systemic racism within the USDA has robbed them of their land and the accumulated wealth of generations. Only a fraction of that claim is true, and it is only true due to Democrat actions.

Fact check in aisle three! The 1920 census records 949,889 “Colored” (of which 24,181 were not black) farmers in the United States, 99% of them in the South. They farmed 45 million acres. The 2017 agricultural census shows 35,470 blacks (alone or with other races) farming on 4.6 million acres, mostly in the South.

That’s a drop of 96% in the number of black farmers and 90% in acreage. Over the same period, black ownership (full or part) of the farmed land increased from 23% to 91%. One hundred years ago, more than 75% of black farmers did not farm “their” land; they worked as managers, tenants, sharecroppers, or cash/piecework employees on farms that others owned.

For comparison, 5.5 million whites farmed 911 million acres in 1920. Today almost 2 million whites farm 850 million acres with ownership nearly doubling from 56% to 94%. Overall, in the US, acreage in farms declined by about 6% while the number of farmers fell by 68%. Most farmers today own their farms.

Everything would have been vastly different for black farmers, and blacks in general, and really for all Americans, if a Democrat had not assassinated President Lincoln. The Democrat who succeeded him almost immediately voided General Sherman’s Article 15 promise to give 40 acres and a mule to freed slaves.

Think how giving potentially hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of former slaves the opportunity and means to become productive property owners would have charged the engine of commerce and community-building! America would have immediately become and stayed bigger, bolder, richer, and happier if the Democrats had not seized power and spent the next 100+ years persecuting and impoverishing blacks for becoming free. Thanks, Dems.

After the Civil War, Democrats slowed the Reconstruction to a crawl; wrote, passed, signed, and enforced all the Jim Crow legislation; created the KKK; carried out lynchings; and suppressed black voting. The Democrat Party opposed the 13th amendment abolishing slavery, and not one Democrat in Congress voted for either the 14th amendment giving citizenship to freed slaves or the 15th amendment giving all races the right to vote.

Talk about sore losers. I wonder, is this the sort of thing conservatives have to look forward to during the next century as payback for Trump’s 2016 victory?

The Democrat Party is historically a party of oppression and segregation. At the time of the Civil War, Democrats owned all but a handful of the millions of slaves and carried out all the horrors associated with that. 

Their post-war actions echoed what they had done decades earlier while negotiating reservations in bad faith with Native Americans and forcing the Trail of Tears death march. Those same actions foreshadowed Democrats opposing women’s suffrage, interning the Japanese, fighting against civil rights legislation, and literally standing in the way of desegregating schools.

The Democrats inherited 9,000 advisors in Indochina and within a few years had over 535,000 American soldiers on the ground at one time. My generation certainly viewed the ramping up of the draft under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson as oppressive. 

Back to agriculture. Let’s look at 100 years of change in American farming. The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl took their toll on farming and farmers of all races. War also disconnected men from the land – one million blacks served in World War II, 600,000 in the Korean War, and 300,000 in Vietnam. And as that WWI song asks, “How are you going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?”

 Industrialization drew many farmers to the cities for steadier work, higher pay, better schools, and a less grueling lifestyle. Modernization brought labor-saving farm machinery that replaced hand planting, cultivation, and harvesting; and the introduction of herbicides and pesticides did away with a lot of weeding and manual control. Economies of scale came into play so that farmers profited best with more land in fewer hands, with fewer workers.

FDR took a great toll on black farmers. His 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act paid farmers to fallow land to prop up the plummeting price of cotton. The plan called for payments to farmers, including tenants, but Democrat Party senators argued successfully to the Secretary of Agriculture they should only go to landowners, who then had no need for workers on fallowed land. This bill created the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, which became the primary vehicle for the USDA’s racism of the time.

Similarly, the 1935 Social Security Act, modified at Democrats’ demand, initially excluded agricultural and household workers. The vast majority of working blacks were in these two categories. They weren’t covered until the early 1950s.

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 similarly excluded agricultural and domestic workers. Is it any wonder that the 1930s saw a drop of more than 25% in the number of black farmers? Thanks again, Dems.

Pete Daniel, writing in Dispossession, Discrimination against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights (2013), offers a heart-wrenching view of the treatment of black farmers at the hands of local, and sometimes national, USDA officials. He describes these officials as white and notes it was happening in the South, so it can be understood that all of these officials were Democrats.

Even after the passage of civil rights legislation, USDA staff continued to deny services to black farmers in parts of the South, especially if they ran for office, joined civil rights organizations, or participated in farmer cooperatives. Was this systemic racism? No, in that it was not prescribed by regulation; but yes, in that a significant segment of the USDA’s Southern—based staff did this.

Times have changed, and it appears that the behemoth USDA has responded to fundamental legal changes. That cohort engaged in systemic racism in the second and third quarters of the 20th century is gone. Rules and processes are firmly in place to address discriminatory incidents in delivering federal services and dealing with today’s bad actors violating federal laws and guidelines.

The Obama administration paid out $4.4 billion to settle complaints about the Pigford discrimination against black farmers, as well as discrimination against other groups, arising between 1981 and 1996. By all accounts, that compensation program was rife with fraudulent claims. Interestingly, there has been much criticism of the Obama administration for its treatment of black farmers, even after Pigford’s settlement.

If this legislation is viewed (by some) as a fraction of reparations owed, then the question arises whether the US taxpayer, including tens of millions of immigrants since 1865 and their children, should be on the hook for a century of evil perpetrated by a single party. Rather, doesn't fairness dictate that that party, and its ideological offspring, cover those costs alone?

Hat tip: Dinesh D’Souza

Author’s credit – Anony Mee is a retired public servant.

IMAGE: Black farmer Alachua County, Florida 1913. Public Domain.