Toward a More Perfect Union: A Call to Action for Our Nation’s Farmers

East Point, GA- The Federation of Southern Cooperatives is pleased to announce that yesterday, the Senate unanimously passed a bill making June 19th or Juneteenth an official Federal holiday. The House is expected to follow course, and the President will likely sign the bill into law. Earlier this year, our Board made Juneteenth an organizational holiday and our offices will be closed in observance. Juneteenth memorializes the end of African enslavement in the United States.

Last week, we commemorated the 100th Anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. The irony should be lost on none of us that by the end of that same week Judge William C. Griesbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin had issued a Temporary Restraining Order briefly barring the USDA from providing emergency debt relief to farmers and ranchers of color after a long and ugly history of discrimination.

Despite countless legal and illegal acts of race-based violence and with nominal assistance from the government, 218,000 Black farmers acquired 15 million acres of land by 1910. Unfortunately, due to unrelenting institutionalized discrimination, by 1992, there were only 18,000 Black farmers remaining owning only 2.3 million acres which represents a 90% decline in both Black farmers & Black-owned land. Far from a historical anomaly, last year, White farmers received 97% of all farm subsidies and COVID-19 relief. Thus, the vestiges of our nation’s plantation legacy remain intact.

Earlier this year, the President signed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) into law. Sections 1005 and 1006 of ARP target Federal funding for farmers of color in part due to the specific instances of race-based discrimination that these farmers continue to face. By March 31, 2021, Representatives Tom Tiffany (R-WI) and Burgess Owens (R-UT) introduced the Agriculture Civil Rights and Equality Act which purports to prevent race-based preferences. Likewise, on April 29, 2021, a group of White farmers filed a lawsuit against Secretary Vilsack of the USDA alleging race-based discrimination under Section 1005 for providing debt relief to farmers and ranchers of color. We see these efforts as an attempt to exploit the Civil Rights protections that have been so hard-fought for by the Black community as a means to preserve institutionalized race-based discrimination.

All concerned citizens, as each of us should be, should be engaging our elected officials to remind them that we fully support equality and equity in the accessibility of USDA programs and services for our nation’s great farmers. We cannot ignore the reality that COVID disproportionately impacted communities of color nor the compounded, devastating impact COVID had on farmers of color, to do so would be to perpetuate the same race-based discrimination which underscores the shameful legacy of this country’s origin. Congress should be lauded for passing the debt relief which promotes American rural business during an ongoing global pandemic. We deserve a more perfect Union in which race-based discrimination does not exist, but until then, when Congress executes the will of the people, as it did in drafting Sections 1005 & 1006, we must be able to rely on the Judicial branch to honor its role in justice. With each effort we make as a Nation to right the wrongs of our past, we join our forefathers in creating a more perfect Union.

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