The cases spanned the course of nearly three decades. The bill came to the floor 10 times. Now, the U.S. Senate has finally approved $4.5 billion to pay African American and Native American farmers over charges of government mismanagement and racial discrimination.
Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack joined CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante to discuss passage of the bill on "Washington Unplugged" Tuesday. Although the settlement still needs to be passed in the House, where there are more critics, Vilsack is optimistic. He said "there were problems that needed to be addressed and we are making sure we turn this chapter in the USDA's history."
The discrimination centered on a U.S. subsidy program and allegations that processing times for loans to black farmers far exceeded processing times for white farmers.
Plante asked Vilsack why it has taken so long for the settlement to finally reach this stage.
"I can't speak to the first 18 years, but for the last two years we've been working hard to get Congress to approve the appropriation," he replied. He added that "we hope the House [passes a bill] very soon and then we can move on to getting the resources out to farmers."
While the settlement is a victory for some farmers, there are still pending cases involving female and Hispanic farmers. Plante asked why they weren't included in the Pigford Settlement.
"It's a separate type of case," Vilsack responded. "Simply because those cases, the women farmers and Hispanic farmers never certified as a class-action and as a result they're individual cases, so we have to have a different approach to resolve those cases and we're working on that."
Vilsack reiterated that this is a step in the right direction for the USDA and said he will continue to work to make sure settlement money reaches those who filed cases, some dating back to 1981.
"We going to try to turn this page and move onto a more positive chapter with civil rights in the USDA," he said.
Watch Tuesday's Washington Unplugged above, also featuring Heritage Foundation's senior research fellow and former chief of CIA's Korea branch Bruce Klingner on North Korea's strike against South Korea.
Lauren Seifert is an associate producer for CBSNews.com. You can read more of her posts here. For more Washington Unplugged, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.