Black farmers might never reap what they've sown

Original plaintiffs await hearings on discrimination claims

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Lucious Abrams is an original plaintiff in the 1999 landmark lawsuit Pigford v. Glickman, in which black farmers alleged discrimination by the USDA when applying for loans and disaster relief. Thousands of farmers haven't had their claims heard.  Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Lucious Abrams is an original plaintiff in the 1999 landmark lawsuit Pigford v. Glickman, in which black farmers alleged discrimination by the USDA when applying for loans and disaster relief. Thousands of farmers haven't had their claims heard.

Years have come and gone, promises have been uttered and broken, and the disappointment in Lucious Abrams' heart has only grown.

Abrams, 57, has spent the past 11 years watching his Waynesboro, Ga., farm shrink from a couple of thousand acres to a couple of hundred, wondering whether what he was promised in 1999 would ever come.

Like thousands of other black farmers, Abrams was turned away, ignored or put on hold when he applied for operation loans in local U.S. Department of Agriculture offices in the 1980s and '90s.

As a farmer struggling to keep his land, he was one of six original plaintiffs in the 1999 landmark Pigford v. Glickman case, a class action lawsuit brought against the USDA by black farmers who alleged discrimination in receiving loans and subsidies between 1983 and 1997.

The USDA later admitted to denying black farmers loans based on race. The settlement gave eligible farmers $50,000 each, forgave their debts and offered some tax credits and priority for future loans.

Despite the triumph, Abrams and thousands of others walked away with nothing.

Though the USDA has paid out more than $1 billion to some farmers, a reported 81,000 were denied the settlement, despite being able to prove they had applied for loans and received no help, according to research by the Environmental Working Group.

"We're in the same situation we was in before the lawsuit," Abrams said. "It's no more than when we came over on the slave ships. People getting rich off your suffering and you're suffering from people prospering."

Many of those farmers alleged unfair deadlines in filing claims for the settlement, and Congress last month resolved to dedicate more money for those who filed late in the settlement known as Pigford I.

On Wednesday, President Obama signed the bill, Pigford II, that set aside $1.15 billion for those late filers.

Despite being an original plaintiff in Pigford I, Abrams is not eligible for the new round of funds because, he said, his claim was "unjustly" denied by an arbitrator years ago.

While the new funding puts a spotlight on an effort to right a wrong, there are thousands of others who will never get the piece of justice they fought so hard for, Abrams said.

"The lead plaintiffs have been forgotten in Pigford," said the lead attorney at the time, Alexander Pires Jr. "There really was no change. A ton of lawyers quit, and a lot of people became very bitter ... and black farmers are still being persecuted by the USDA."

Abrams is holding on to his shrinking farming business because agriculture is all he has ever known.

His family roots grow deep in Burke County. He lives not far from a road named after his father and still tends the land his family bought in 1953.

He used to wake up every morning to flourishing acres of cotton, corn, wheat and other grains. When operating costs became too cumbersome, he applied for USDA loans in the mid-1980s, hoping for help to get seeds planted on time.

Loan officers told him to come back later, wait a little longer and, "Sorry, your loan is not processed yet."

"When you can't get your money on time to operate, two or three weeks in the farming industry -- that's like if you need water to drink and you can't get it till three days later," he said.

The effect was disastrous. His operation had to cut back on something, so he saved by reducing fertilizer and skipping soil samples.

Slowly he saw his farm deteriorate while his white neighbors left USDA offices happy.

He wondered whether his problem was unique, or whether there were other black farmers seeing the same struggle.

In 1996, Abrams and five other black farmers piled into a pickup and drove across the country to find out.

They needed 400 signatures for Pires to agree to represent their case -- and what they found was overwhelming.

Abrams drove to rural towns and asked the corner stores to point out where the black farmers lived. He sat with farmers, explained the lawsuit and heard story after story of discrimination from USDA loan officers.

"I looked in their eyes and saw these farmers' suffering," Abrams said. "This was something happening to black farmers across America."

According to data from the USDA, loans to black farmers averaged $4,000, or 25 percent less than those to white farmers, between 1990 and 1995. Of the disaster payments distributed in that time, 97 percent went to white farmers and less than 1 percent went to black borrowers.

A spokesman from USDA declined to comment last week on whether loan officials will be held accountable for the discrimination or whether any action will be taken to identify those who withheld loans from black farmers.

Gary Grant, the president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association, said that because of the discrimination, the hurt can never be made up by the $50,000 awards of Pigford I.

With the president's approval of funds for Pigford II, the money can't bring back land that was lost to foreclosure and debt.

"The damage has been done," he said.

Further setbacks

Each claimant in the 1999 Pigford case had to go before a judge to have their cases reviewed.

- Of the 22,551 claimants, 59 percent were approved and 41 percent were denied.

- More than $1 billion was paid to black farmers as $50,000 individual payments.

USDA contracted with the U.S. Department of Justice to fight the farmers' claims.

- The USDA spent $12 million and 56,000 staff hours fighting each individual claim.

- 81,000 farmers were prevented from having their claims heard by a judge.

- Of the 3,309 claims in Georgia, 3,228 were denied.

Source: USDA Office of the Monitor, Environmental Working Group

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followthemoney
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followthemoney 12/11/10 - 03:02 am
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How many white farmers

How many white farmers applied for the same assistance???? It seems that all you had to be was a farmer (white or black) and get guvmint assistance.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/11/10 - 07:57 am
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"Abrams, 57, has spent the

"Abrams, 57, has spent the past 11 years watching his Waynesboro, Ga., farm shrink from a couple of thousand acres to a couple of hundred, wondering whether what he was promised in 1999 would ever come."

That seems improbable. I wonder if the reporter checked the veracity of the claim?

don.dyches
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don.dyches 12/11/10 - 10:14 am
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I'm sure that Abrams saw his

I'm sure that Abrams saw his farm shrink...and I'm sure that race was an issue in this. Both are a disgrace.
Followthemoney's inference that farmers get a handout is also a disgrace. What do you eat? Have you thought about where it comes from? Walmart, Kroger and Publix aren't growing our produce!
I work in the agriculture industry and recently attended the largest agrciulture show in North America. The demographic of the farmers in attendance was scary...most were 80+...They are not being replaced by a younger generation...and when the farms disappear, so does our food. WAKE UP PEOPLE!!! Stop criticizing the FEW who are growing the food for ALL!

soldout
1280
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soldout 12/11/10 - 10:56 am
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He has realized what so many

He has realized what so many have learned; the government is not the solution but the problem. Being bitter won't solve a thing. He needs to forgive and look to God as the only source and the One who really cares. What did the USDA stand to gain by denying based on race? Did they just run the number and deny? If he was done wrong he needs to be restored but don't expect much from a country that is broke.

chascush
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chascush 12/11/10 - 11:17 am
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Retired Army, Gosh, I thought

Retired Army, Gosh, I thought all that race "bidness" was settled in 1863 or 1866 or 1954 or 1964 and here we are in 2010 and it's still there?
How is your lily white Irish butt doing these days?

usafvet
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usafvet 12/11/10 - 11:18 am
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It would also be very

It would also be very interesting to see how he lived and handled his money during the good years. Has been a problem with many farmers, when things are good they spend like the "drunk sailor" and when things get tough, they look to the government (taxpayer). This particular pay out is nothing more than reparations provided by dumbobama using and again misusing taxpayer money.

WW1949
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WW1949 12/11/10 - 11:34 am
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While I have sympathy for

While I have sympathy for anyone losing a farm. What happened to the thousands of acres? Did he sell it and what happened to the money if he did. Loans are made to people that are credit worthy and nothing is said about his credit. He must be an old man when he said "we came over on the slave ships". I am so tired of hearing that excuse that it means nothing anymore to me. That stopped over 150 years ago.

Cadence
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Cadence 12/11/10 - 11:56 am
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So we "know" he is not a

So we "know" he is not a godly man, he wasted his money, and he frittered away his own land. Anything to deny the fact that he was discriminated against because he is black. This is an excellent representation of the problem. Just because the race card is misused and abused, it doesn't mean that there are not legitimate cases of institutional racism. There are.

seenitB4
80903
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seenitB4 12/11/10 - 12:06 pm
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My kin (white) in the Estil

My kin (white) in the Estil South Carolina area lost their BUTTS too....lost farms-many farmers went under.....the gov. didn't bail them out......they went to their graves with worry over the strain put on their kids. All across the USA farmers lost everything.....do you remember the Willie Nelson concerts trying to bail out the American Farmer???? Can you say LOSING OUR TAILS WHEN BUYING FROM OTHER COUNTRIES!

Riverman1
79005
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Riverman1 12/11/10 - 12:42 pm
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I don't doubt there was

I don't doubt there was discrimination against black farmers with the USDA although as late as 1997 is pushing it. What I do find questionable is his claim that he owned a couple of thousand of acres and lost it all down to a couple of hundred acres. If he had owned that much land he could have sold a little and had more than enough to have handled any problems. Land in the 90's exploded in value. Anyway, I wish the gentleman luck.

Riverman1
79005
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Riverman1 12/11/10 - 12:46 pm
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When I got my Aiken County

When I got my Aiken County farm in 1993 I went to the Farm Bureau and had them explain everything to me. I sat down with them more than once to learn about the programs and farming business. I suspect the black farmers weren't as comfortable doing that, but it's hard to blame the USDA or any other farm office for that mindset that may have resulted in fewer loans.

tcsnider
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tcsnider 12/11/10 - 04:25 pm
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I was raised on my family's

I was raised on my family's farm and have worked in the agriculture field for 33 years. In my tenure,I have seen numerous farmers lose their farms, including my father, due to many factors including land values, commodity prices, weather conditions, etc. Loans were denied to a lot good people due to credit worthiness and the ability to repay. The same thing has happened to nonagricultural businesses. I don't see where race has any play in loan denial if applicant cannot show ability to repay. Perhaps if the same discretion had been used the housing industry would not have collapsed.

mable8
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mable8 12/11/10 - 05:15 pm
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Big hairy deal; lots of white

Big hairy deal; lots of white farmers found themselves in the same boat--and many even lost their farms in the process. But who cares about them? Certainly not the government--and they don't have the right to file a discrimination claim.

Aiken Pyles
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Aiken Pyles 12/11/10 - 06:17 pm
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The original plaintiffs had

The original plaintiffs had good cause, but Shirley Sherrod rounded up thousands of new plaintiffs with little validity. Now, I wonder if they would ever repay all the small farmers who were driven into sharecropping by the usury of Yankees during Reconstruction? How about the ecological destruction of the South, by clear cutting our forests? We need some redneck reparations.

Sweet son
9649
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Sweet son 12/11/10 - 08:14 pm
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If you check back in the

If you check back in the Burke county property records around the early 80's you will find that Mr. Abrams moved into the house and on the land owned by a white farmer. I am sure that this white farmer did not leave because he wanted to. He was probably the victim of discrimination. I am sure that all the thousands of acres were rented and the remaining few hundred acres were part of the a deal where Mr. Abrams was allowed to buy the white farmers house and land for pennies on the dollar.

Nativeson1
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Nativeson1 12/11/10 - 08:32 pm
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I know Lucious Abrams and his

I know Lucious Abrams and his family. He is well respected in the community by whites as well as blacks. He is a honest man and will give you the shirt of his back without you asking him for it. He is a councilman in Burke County and he has farmed all his life. The question before you is what makes him different from all other white farmers who work hard and dealt with the USDA? His race. If the USDA denied him based on any reason outside of his race I would agree with the lot of you; however, for those who can read the article clearly states the USDA ADMITTED race was the reason so many black farmers like Mr. Lucious Abrams were denied over and over and over. Some of your comments disgust me...If you are that jaundiced to not acknowledge that discrimination existed here you obviously can't be objective and honest about the world in which we live... btw Cadence calling him ungodly is clearly out of line...Farming is hard, and all farmers depend on the USDA to help them out...Ask around, and if you can find a farmer here in the CSRA or USA who still turns a plow ask them how unprofitable it can be, or how hard it is to keep afloat...If you really want to find a farmer travel to China or South America since that is where a good part of the foods you consume daily comes from...Instead of being hateful and making idiotic and disparaging comments about Mr. Abrams you should think twice if possible and thank him...Those of you who call yourselves fair but made comments to attack him personally are worse than the USDA; at least they could admit they were wrong...

Nativeson1
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Nativeson1 12/11/10 - 08:30 pm
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Sweet Son: How do you know

Sweet Son: How do you know the farmer was white? Do the Burke County property records show race? If so please provide a link...I challenge you because I know the Abrams farm, and I know the area....btw, Lucious Abrams family has lived on that farm long before the 80's, so I suggest you check again or get your story straight. The issue isn't farms failing the issue is being discriminated against by the USDA based on race, which is what the USDA admits happened...

Nativeson1
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Nativeson1 12/11/10 - 08:34 pm
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In about 30 or 40 years I

In about 30 or 40 years I would love to see how the thread will read when it is the other way around...btw, I would be fair and defend the lot of you anyways....Right is right regardless of race or rank...

Sweet son
9649
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Sweet son 12/11/10 - 08:44 pm
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Native, you are right about

Native, you are right about Mr. Abrams he is a gentle giant. It takes a lot of guts to put all of your resources in a field and wait on the Lord to send rain.

Nuff said!!

Chillen
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Chillen 12/11/10 - 09:21 pm
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How about all the reverse

How about all the reverse discrimination that has occured and is occuring?

*Minority set aside construction contracts
*College admission standards overlooked so that more minorities can take spots that more qualified white students should have filled
*How about all the special scholarships offered for minorities? The last time I checked there were no "white-only" scholarships.

Things go both ways sometimes.

I'm glad he wants to work though. There are far too many American's right now who don't.

Sweet son
9649
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Sweet son 12/11/10 - 09:40 pm
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Thanks Chillen, I needed a

Thanks Chillen, I needed a little help here. I am sorry that Mr. Abrams did not get his help but I do know that his family occupies a house and property on Gough-Red Hill Rd. that belonged to a white farmer.

hunterga34
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hunterga34 12/12/10 - 08:43 am
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Sweet Son, my family bought

Sweet Son, my family bought some of that land that was owned by that white farmer also, right next to Lucious Abrams. My family is white. What the hell has that got to do with anything. Lucious and his family are salt of the earth. Just good people. Everyone should have neighbors as good. Don't attack his charactor, challange the situation. If Lucious says it's going to rain, get a rain coat. What happened to this family is criminal. All Lucious did in this article was state facts on record. Now why can't the good people of Burke County or the state of Ga. make it right. Why have the peole of Burke County not rallied behind this family and demanded that it be made right. What he is telling you is that if you don't stop it right now and unite, you could be next. He isn't playing the race card, he is stating facts. The facts are this, he is your neighbor and the government did the wrong thing by him and his family. Now let's get behind him and help make it right. Oh yea, that white farmer that lost his land, now that's another story. If you want good gossip, follow that story, wow. But like Lucious is known to say, don't nothing good come out of talkin about people. This is a good, god fearing family that I am proud to know. He is our neighbor and a KEEPER, need more like him.

Riverman1
79005
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Riverman1 12/12/10 - 09:23 am
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HunterGA34 and NativeSon, I

HunterGA34 and NativeSon, I still have my one question that is more of a factual matter than anything else. Did Mr. Abrams own 2,000 acres at one time or was that a misstatement?

justus4
99
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justus4 12/12/10 - 10:10 am
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After reading some comments,
Unpublished

After reading some comments, there IS a high degree of ignorance and denial in matters concerning race in the USA. This story proves that the so-called "founding principles" are lies; that racism permeates and thrives throughout this wicked government (state & local) and even after proving violations in courts, the "system" fails the Black man. And this is NOT the full story, but only the version that the All-White media allows to be circulated. Great country, eh?

365G
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365G 12/12/10 - 10:42 am
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I know Lucious personally and

I know Lucious personally and what he speaks is the truth. It is too sad that people attack a person solely because of race (still). But thats the country we live in. It too is sad that people don't seem to recognize what racism trully is. As mentioned in his statements, the USDA admitted to wrong doing and discrimanation. Most comments are attacking Lucious for the artical. Now, it being almost 2011 and we as a country are once again so far from unity that not many can see their bias ways. The last time their was any true unity in this country was Sept. 11, 2001, when the twin towers were attacked. That's when America didn't think blacks were the enemy for a short time and found out that their are more cruel and evils to deal with than blacks. Here's an example of new age racism. Beyonce' wants to showcase her new fragrance on TV. The networks agree its too racy. Yet Victoria Secret's has a telecast that's an hour or more long with several beautiful ladies that have on no more than very revealing patties and bras and has a world ordiance. (Huh, wonder what's different their). Wake people.

Riverman1
79005
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Riverman1 12/12/10 - 11:25 am
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I'm sure Mr. Abrams is a nice

I'm sure Mr. Abrams is a nice guy and I'm pretty sure he experienced discrimination with the USDA. He was one of the original plantiffs in the suit. But by his supporters refusal to address my contention that he never owned 2,000 acres, it's obvious that part of the article was a misstatement or misquote.

Sweet son
9649
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Sweet son 12/13/10 - 12:31 am
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Hunter34, as I said before,

Hunter34, as I said before, Mr. Abrams is a gentle giant and I am sorry that the groups lawyers got most of the money but go figure they always do. If the Burke county tax assesors had any records available without cost you could go there and see when Mr. Abrams moved to the Gough/Red Hill property. I also know the white farmer who lived in the house and on the property on Gough/Red Hill Rd that Mr. Abrams calls home. The white farmer was like Mr. Abrams and others just trying to make a living farming a few hundred acres and he failed like alot of black and white farmers. He as well as Mr. Abrams should have been helped by our government so that they could have maintained their farms and squeeked out a modest living. Not at all about race.

phuthangh8
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phuthangh8 12/13/10 - 03:17 pm
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racist looking through racist

racist looking through racist eyes can't see discrimination is clearly the case here.the man had a case it was proven and now its time to pay.

Birddawg
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Birddawg 12/15/10 - 09:54 pm
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Wow, did Lucious Abrams write

Wow, did Lucious Abrams write this story himself? No fact checking at all. Mr. Abrams land and home came from the FHA and the Federal Land Bank, so much for the government racism there. He was turned down for federal government loans for one reason, he was a bad credit risk. Guess what, he still is. The writer needs to come to Burke County and talk to the people in the agriculture business. Ask the equipment dealers, fertilizer and chemical dealers, grain elevators, and the like. He can't buy a bag of fertilizer on credit must less 10 tons. All he knows is how to try to beat the governent system. Putting crops in other peoples' names, claiming to own equipment that is borrowed, skirting the law any way he can. You didn't come over on the slave ship, neither did you daddy, nor your grandaddy. You just want credit for it.

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