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AGRICULTURE REPORT – September 10, 2002: U.S. Black Farmers Protest - 2002-09-09

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Hezekiah Gibson operates a farm in Manning, South Carolina. Last month, he and about sixty other black farmers traveled to a one-day protest in Washington, D-C.

The farmers and their supporters demonstrated near the headquarters of the United States Department of Agriculture. They were protesting measures by the U-S-D-A they say have caused many blacks to lose their farms. They also accuse the government of failing to honor an agreement to pay black farmers for years of unfair treatment.

Mister Gibson said he did not like having to come to Washington. But he said he is tired of waiting for justice.

Three years ago, the government agreed to pay at least fifty-thousand dollars to each farmer who suffered unfair treatment. However, the protesters say few farmers have received their money.

The Department of Agriculture is a huge government agency. It lends money to farmers who have been refused loans by private banks.

Farm activists and civil rights officials have long blamed unfair treatment by the U-S-D-A for causing many blacks to leave farming. The number of black farmers in the United States continues to decrease. About twelve percent of the American population is black. Yet only about one percent of farmers are black.

A group of black farmers started legal action against the Department of Agriculture in nineteen-ninety-seven. Two years later, a settlement between the two sides was announced. Under the settlement, U-S-D-A officials agreed there were cases of unfair treatment of blacks after nineteen-eighty-three. That was when former President Ronald Reagan closed the U-S-D-A office of civil rights. That office was re-opened six years ago.

The government has paid more than six-hundred-million dollars to almost thirteen-thousand black farmers. It also canceled millions of dollars in unpaid loans. However, more than eight-thousand cases have been denied. Other farmers are still waiting for a decision.

A top U-S-D-A official says the Justice Department is examining the remaining claims. He added that the government is not opposed to making payments to the black farmers. He said it is more an issue of following through on the settlement.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.