Volume 11, Number 4                                         November 29, 2007

The Farmer


Horror Stories from the Countryside

by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Muímin Muhammad


On pages 37-38 of his book Message To The Blackman in America, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad wrote in 1965:

"The worst kind of crime has been committed against us, for we were robbed of our desire to even want to think and do for ourselves. We are often pictured by the slave-master as a lazy and trifling people who are without thoughts of advancement. I say, this is a condition which the slave-master very cleverly wanted and created within and among the so-called Negroes...

The slave-master passed laws limiting the so-called Negro in land ownership or limiting the areas in which such purchases or even rentals could be made...[T]he so-called Negro faced pressure against his becoming a farm owner and pressure from the white community that he remain a tenant. We encountered credit difficulties, hardships of repayment of loans and hardship with white executives from whom the loans must be asked."

To bring this up to date and backed by statistics, in 1999 we asked black farmers in Terrell County, GA to give us a list of 10 black farmers and 10 white farmers that were farming and had dealt with (Farmers Home Administration) FmHA in the early '80's. With this list we went to the Terrell County courthouse where the loan files and deeds are kept. From the loan files we developed a list of FmHA transactions of these farmers and from the deed records were able to obtain information on the amount of loans, collateral attached, interest rates and terms.

In 1978 according to the Census of Agriculture there were 31 black farms in Terrell county averaging 148 acres each. However of the 10 black farmers that were still alive in 1998 only 6 (six) still owned land and none were actively farming. The average size of land holdings was now 13.84 acres, an average loss of 134.16 acres. This represented an average loss per black farmer of $224,450 in terms of land, buildings and equipment at today's prices ($1,673 per acre). In other words the black farmers in Terrell county lost about everything from 1978 to 1998. What happened?

In 1998 the 10 black farms averaged 13.8 acres, while the 10 white farms averaged 272 acres. Now if we compare the number of loans received by each farmer according to the loan records at the courthouse, we see that the 10 black farmers received an average of 4.3 loans from 1978 to 1994, while the ten white farmers received twice that amount, 8.2. But what is more shocking is that none of these black farmers got any of the 3% interest rate loans that were supposedly set aside in 1978 and 1979 to help redress the ills already incurred against black farmers. Instead, in Terrell County five white farmers received a total of $943,480 of the 3% loans in 1978 and 1979. In fact according to courthouse records, one white farmer alone received $532,850.

In addition, while helping the black farmers determine the economic damages done to them by the USDA, we were told many stories about how the USDA county supervisors got rich by taking black people's land:

1. Many black farmers told us that as long as they did not try to get loans to buy land, they could sometimes get operating loans. But as soon as they applied to purchase land they were most often disqualified and not given additional operating capital, if they were lucky to buy that land otherwise.

2. When a black farmer did get an operating loan, he had to pay it all back within one year regardless of how his crop turned out. When a white farmer had a bad year, he was allowed to set up payment plans or loan restructuring, while the black farmerís land was sold at auction.

3. Black farmers had to put their land up for collateral for an operating loan, while white farmers could use the crop itself as collateral.

4. Local judges and law enforcers would ignore a higher courtís order to stop a foreclosure on a black farmer.

5. Most black farmers were never told that they could put 50 acres of marginal land in pine trees and get their loans deferred for 25 years without additional interest charges.

6. Black farmers were almost always given "supervised loans" which meant that they had to go to the FmHA office to make any purchases, adding time and delays in their operations. In addition they seldom knew how much money was still left in their account, nor how much of the income that they were forced to turn over was actually placed against their debts until foreclosure notices came.

7. Black farmers were seldom given loans to buy top notch equipment but forced to buy old equipment from white farmers who had loans from FmHA, or the local banks, allowing these farmers to dump worn out equipment and get the down payment for new equipment.

8. Yield information was distorted at the USDA local offices to insure that black farmers did not get government subsidies or insurance payments. On average from 1982 to 1992 white farmers received $1,023 per acre in farm subsidies, while black farmers received only $274 per acre.

9. A common method of hiding discrimination in a given county was to always have one are two black farmers that would get money and a few white farmers who would be denied money. Usually a token black farmer was allowed to sit in on the agricultural committee meetings, but not allowed to vote.

10. When black farmers were forced into bankruptcy, the courts would pay off the white creditors while leaving black creditors stranded.

11. And maybe worst of all, many of the children of these black farmers who lost their land blamed their parents and not the system that victimized them.

We will end this with the words of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad:

"All of this is part of the clever plan to discourage my people from wanting to own producing land for themselves and to cause a great dislike within them for having anything to do with tilling, cultivating, extracting and producing for themselves as other free and independent people. It is a shame! This shows you and I what white America is to us and just why we have not been able to do anything worthwhile for self. They want us to be helpless so they can mistreat us as always. We must come together and unite. It is time." (MTBM, p. 38)