Institute for Economic and Racial Equity

The Impact and Implications of the Pigford Settlement for Black Farmers

The Institute for Economic and Racial Equity at Brandeis University and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives announce a new research partnership funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Over the next two years, both organizations will work with Black farmers and their descendants across the nation to understand better the impact of Pigford v. Glickman (1999) and In re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation (2011), a group civil rights lawsuit filed by Black farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This project will be the first nationwide effort to understand the impact of these historic cases on farmers and their families.

Logo of Federation of Southern CooperativesThe research teams, led by Tom Shapiro and Cornelius Blanding, will investigate the experiences of Pigford claimants during and after the case, with an eye towards policy and narrative today. The past two years have seen multiple grassroots and legislative attempts to foster equity in agriculture, including the Justice for Black Farmers Act and Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan – Emergency Debt Relief for Farmers and Ranchers of Color, which conservative legal foundations led by white farmers are currently challenging in the court. This new research, focused on the experiences and voices of Black farmers, will lend clarity and urgency to the problems these proposed policies are meant to address. Beyond agricultural policy, the research teams believe that the Pigford cases offer insight into policies around cash transfers and reparations, as well as the way that harmful narratives affect marginalized communities.

Just over 20 years ago, Black farmers sought legal justice in a class action lawsuit against the USDA for racial discrimination in its farm and credit services. After a national organizing campaign, two class action lawsuits, and an act of Congress, just over 30,000 farmers received settlement funds for the discrimination they faced, mostly in increments of $50,000 per farmer. At the time, Pigford v. Glickman was the largest civil rights settlement in the history of the United States. Today, the case is only surpassed by Keepseagle v. Vilsack, a case which Native American farmers brought against the USDA in the wake of the Pigford settlement.

Questions remain about the efficacy and impact of the Pigford cases. Some claimants maintain that they were denied the debt relief promised to them through the consent decree and that widespread foreclosures on black-owned land continued. Many Black farmers whose claims were denied maintain that they faced persistent and continual discrimination and should have been eligible for settlement money. Finally, questions remain about whether the $50,000 awarded to the majority of successful claimants was enough, not only to remedy the real and documented financial harm that farmers experienced but also to retain the land they still owned, as well as their dignity.

Pigford v. Glickman was the culmination of years of discrimination against Black farmers. For decades, Black farmers experienced unfair treatment by their local USDA county committees when they applied for farm loans or assistance. They were denied loans, waited longer for loan approval, and faced worse loan terms than white farmers. The consequences were devastating, with many Black farmers facing foreclosures, high debt, and the potential loss of their profession. What’s more, when farmers elevated their complaints to the USDA, the agency was unresponsive. Between 1920 and 1999, 98.1% percent of Black farmers left their profession and 85% of the land owned by Black farmers was lost. In the same period, White farmers collectively saw the number of acres owned grow slightly and their numbers drop by approximately 66%.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is sponsoring this collaborative research project. For more information about the Pigford project and our work, please contact Sylvia Stewart at