Black Farmers Await Discrimination Settlement

Willie Adams is one of many black farmers awaiting part of a $1.25 billion settlement from the USDA.
Willie Adams' 60-acre Georgia farm has been in his family since 1938. He wants to hold onto its red clay and green pastures for generations to come. The fight to keep it is increasingly stressful.

"High blood pressure," said Adams. "Almost a heart attack. Oh yes. Yes. A lot of stress."

Adams is one of a dwindling number of black farmers, some 30,000 in all, reports CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds. They're hoping Congress will at last end decades of discrimination against them and appropriate the $1.25 billion they and their ancestors won in a settlement with the Department of Agriculture in February.

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A court found the farmers have been systematically denied aid solely because they were black, loans, grants and subsidies that white farmers received.

Adams says USDA officials always claimed to him and other blacks that they lacked the funding. He says he saw that the USDA had the funds available for other people, though.

Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack says those days must end.

"I made it as a goal when I took this office that we would try to reverse that history," said Vilsack.

As for the settlement compensation, Congress has yet to approve it and even if it does, "It would be a very bittersweet victory for us because I have seen so many black farmers pass while waiting for justice," said president of the National Black Farmers Association John Boyd.

Adams is waiting too. He's wanted to expand his business for years to build a new greenhouse or buy up new livestock for his farm. These days he's raising collared greens, squash and okra but he says the farm's been starved without the government assistance other farmers take for granted.

"Trying to save the land, that's the main thing, save the land" said Adams. "The home land."

He wonders why Shirley Sherrod was fired hours after that misleading tape surfaced, but other department officials were not fired for years of discrimination, raising doubts about the government's commitment to close what it calls an unfortunate chapter.

  • Dean Reynolds
    Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.