Scuffles break out in India amid farmer protests
Indian farmers battle police in protest against agricultural reforms
Man charged in Capitol riot was in a 2019 ‘sexy’ farmer contest
Bill Gates is reportedly the largest farmland owner in America
BELLE PLAINE, Kan. — After Gil Alexander’s death left no active Black farmers in a historic Kansas community once home to hundreds, Alexander’s nephew and his wife gave up their jobs in Arizona to try and save the family farm.
But Lateef and Carrie Dowdell encountered steep hurdles after arriving in northwestern Kansas in 2017. The bank swiftly foreclosed on the land and the US Agriculture Department told them their lack of farming experience meant the agency couldn’t provide any help.
“I definitely feel it was discrimination,” Lateef Dowdell said. “All they really wanted to do really is focus on the farmers that were assisting Gil as far as sharecropping. But as far as helping me, no.”
Agricultural communities across the country have seen a steep decline in Black farmers for generations and nowhere is more illustrative of that than Nicodemus, where Alexander grew wheat and other crops.
He now runs a restaurant in nearby Hill City and the acreage he was able to keep sits idle as grassland. Rod Bradshaw drives down a dirt road as he goes to check on a field on his farm near Jetmore, Kansas, January 13, 2021. Bradshaw, who claims to be the last Black farmer in Hodgeman County, is concerned that systemic discrimination by government agencies, farm lenders and the courts have reduced the numbers of Black farmers in the United States from about a million in 1920 to less than 50,000 today.AP
“Once Gil passed, it just didn’t seem like they cared anymore,” Lateef Dowdell said.
On top of that, many Black farmers say racial bias at all levels of government has effectively pushed them off their land.
They say they have less access to credit and technical support than their white counterparts, keeping them from obtaining funds to operate their farms, modernize equipment or buy more land. Even some minority farmers who received USDA loans say the money arrived too late or came with unusual conditions about how they could spend it.
For decades, the department’s Farm Service Agency had relied on local loan authorities in its oftentimes all-white county committees to make loan decisions. Those local county committees now have more of an advisory role but remain influential.
“They do not want Black farmers to have any farm ground whatsoever. Farm ground gives you power, not a lot, but it gives you some power,” said Rod Bradshaw, a 67-year-old Black farmer who raises wheat, cattle and milo on 2,000 acres near Jetmore, Kansas.
A steel cutout depicting a 19th century Black farmer rises from a field across the highway from the small community of Nicodemus, Kansas.AP
The descendants of Nicodemus settlers who still own farmland have mostly leased their land out to white farmers, unable or unwilling to obtain farm operating loans or purchase farm equipment.
But few Black farmers in Kansas got any relief under the settlement, Holmes said.
When the state’s Black Farmers Association was formed 21 years ago in the wake the Pigford settlement, the group had 53 members, she said. Today, only about 13 remain scattered across Kansas.
In the late 1800s nearly 100 Black farming families settled around Morton City, one of a half-dozen Black settlements spread across Kansas that have been obliterated over time. Bradshaw said he is the only descendant of those Morton City settlers still farming his own ground.
Bradshaw, who has been farming since buying his first ground in 1976, has made several discrimination complaints with Agriculture Department over the years and his claim seeking relief under the Pigford lawsuit was denied.
Lateef Dowdell stands on land once belonging to his uncle Gil Alexander, who was the last active Black farmer in the community of Nicodemus, Kansas.AP
The Agriculture Department during the Trump administration defended its handling of discrimination complaints, saying in an email to The Associated Press that its Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights oversees efforts to ensure programs are free of unlawful discrimination.
During the Trump administration, the Agriculture Department never filled the position of assistant secretary for civil rights.
It received more than 3,700 such complaints since 2017 and processed about 1,300 during that time, the department said.
USDA also noted in the email that last year it awarded more than $19 million in grants for training, outreach and technical assistance to socially disadvantaged ranchers.
Many Black farmers say it’s still not enough. They’re hoping that now that Democrats control both houses of Congress, they’ll revive legislation aimed at remedying historical inequities in farming. The Justice for Black Farmers Act, which was introduced in November, seeks to protect remaining Black farmers from losing their land, provide land grants and reform USDA’s civil rights process.
“Nicodemus is a clear picture that we are facing extinction as active farmers in this country,” said John Boyd Jr., a Virginia farmer who is president of the National Black Farmers Association. “So here today in 2021 that there is not one Black farmer that is tilling his own soil and pulling his plow and disc harrowing the ground is disheartening.”