Institute for Economic and Racial Equity

The Broken Promise of Debt Relief for Black Farmers

Image of irrigation system over a field

Over 20 years ago, the United States Department of Agriculture settled in the civil-rights class action lawsuit Pigford v. Glickman, in which Black farmers sued the agency for discrimination in its loan and farm services programs. Systemic discrimination and violence against Black landowners have been the status-quo since the inception of this country, and the twentieth century was no different. Between 1920 and 1997, the year Pigford was filed, Black agricultural landowners lost an estimated $326 billion in compounded value. Pigford, itself the result of decades of activism and mobilization by the Black farming community, inspired similar successful cases by other farming communities, including Keepseagle for Native American farmers, Garcia for Latino farmers, and Love for Women farmers.

In the Pigford Project’s first report, "They have to do something about that debt": Pigford and the Broken Promise of Debt Relief for Black Farmers, the teams at IERE and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives examine how the promises of debt relief in Pigford v. Glickman and its sister case for late-filers, In re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation woefully underdelivered while delays in implementation damaged Black farmers’ livelihoods.

“A lot of Blacks, they lost, even when they got the 50 [thousand] they lost the farm because … every year when something happened it snowballed, and the interest kept going up higher and higher and they ended up losing the farm”

– Successful Pigford Claimant

Read the Report

Debt and unmet promises regarding debt relief continue to be major contributors to Black land loss today. Just one year ago, in 2022, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 would have made approximately $900 million available to Native American, Latino, Black, Asian, and Native Hawaiian farmers. Implementation was moving forward, and several promissory notes had even been issued when the law was deemed unconstitutional by judicial activists. When policymakers wrote a second plan for debt relief in the Inflation Reduction Act, they provided more money for debt relief; however, it was not commensurate with the new scale. The potential claimant pool grew substantially, meaning less money overall and much less money going to correct the toxic debt that has followed the shameful history of discrimination and land expropriation in our country.

One Pigford Claimant summed up a common sentiment we’ve heard throughout our project. “there’s a lot of money out there being invested, and we the last ones that get it.”

The Pigford Project is a research initiative to understand the legacy and impact of the Black Farmers’ Lawsuit. Learn more about our work here.