A decade-long effort to compensate black farmers who suffered discrimination at the hands of U.S. government is nearing completion. A federal judge Thursday approved a $1.25 billion settlement of the case.
All the way into the 1990s, black farmers across the country - and especially in the South - went into their local farm bureau offices to get a government loan for a new tractor, say, or some seeds or money to cover the mortgage until the crops came in.
Time and again those black farmers were turned away while their white counterparts got the help they needed.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture admitted to the discrimination and agreed to compensate black farmers back in 2000. But thousands of farmers didn't hear about that settlement in time to apply. They are the ones covered by the latest settlement finally approved by a judge this week.
"This was the last hurdle for us, so that farmers can begin to receive their long, long overdue settlement checks," says John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association.
It was last December that Congress and President Obama finally approved $1.25 billion to compensate black farmers who missed out on the first discrimination settlement. With the judge's certification in place, those farmers can now begin to have their claims heard one-by-one.
For some, the relief comes too late.
"Many of these farmers - and it hurts me to say this - have passed on," says Boyd.
Some 40,000 black farmers are expected to qualify for payments of about $50,000. They have six months to file a claim, but the money won't be divvied up until all claims have been heard. Boyd says that could take another year.
Over the summer nearly 90,000 notices went out to farmers who may qualify for the settlement.
"We don't want anybody else to get left out," says Boyd. "That's what this whole thing was about - because farmers weren't properly notified, because farmers didn't know about (the first settlement)."
A website - www.blackfarmerscase.com - has been set up for people to file a claim in the settlement and get access to an attorney free of charge.