Black Farmer Recounts Discrimination

Many aging African-American farmers and their families have been awaiting $1.25 billion in payouts from the federal government. The money is part of a settlement package to compensate black farmers who say they were the victims of racial discrimination by the Agriculture Department. Host Michel Martin talks with farmer Harvey White, who has been applying unsuccessfully for Agriculture Department loans since 1964.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Next, we speak to a farmer hoping to receive a portion of that one and a quarter billion dollar settlement payment from the federal government. Again, the settlement stems from a long-standing suit claiming the Agriculture Department discriminated against black farmers in loan programs for years.

Harvey White is a farmer in Prentiss, Mississippi. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. HARVEY WHITE: Thank you.

MARTIN: Mr. White, what do you farm and how long have you been farming?

Mr. WHITE: I've been farming since 1964.

MARTIN: 1964. And what do you farm?

Mr. WHITE: Back then I was farming cotton, soybeans and wheat. But now I'm not doing any farming right now.

MARTIN: You're not farming right now. But you still have cattle, right? Something.

Mr. WHITE: Yeah. My daughter, I actually bought them for a my daughter, she have a few.

MARTIN: Oh, so you bought them for your daughter, I understand. Though, what happened when you tried to participate in the Agriculture Department's loan program? I understand that you tried for a very long time to participate. What happened?

Mr. WHITE: I had to come in and we'd meet once a month and they would tell me there was no money available when I put my application in.

MARTIN: They would say there was no money available for you?

Mr. WHITE: Right. For me.

MARTIN: Can I ask why or if you feel that race played a part in their decision making with you?

Mr. WHITE: Yes, I definitely did because I know three farmers, white farmers that live close by me, they made a loan, for operating loan, like soybeans, wheat and cattle.

MARTIN: So they were doing the same work you were doing.

Mr. WHITE: Any work, I don't know.

MARTIN: And they somehow got loans and you didn't.

Mr. WHITE: Yes, I can give you the name if you want to know them.

MARTIN: What about now, do you have hope that you'll be able to participate in this? I know it's been a long, long road for you.

Mr. WHITE: Yes, I have hope, because I raised five kids (unintelligible) here and all up in a year they all tried to go to college and I had to borrow money to try to send them to college. And I get out and work for a job outside off the farm to try to support them at school. And one of them she do have a PhD. And two of them have masters and another one have a B.S.

MARTIN: Well, you have done your job. Congratulations.

Mr. WHITE: Well, I did, but it was very hard.

MARTIN: It was hard. And none of them are farming. None of your children are farming?

Mr. WHITE: Well, yeah, my daughter right now trying to have a few cattle (unintelligible).

MARTIN: Okay. If you do finally receive some of this settlement money, what do you think you'll do with it?

Mr. WHITE: I will pay my place off. I owe $100,000 on it right now back in the day when I borrowed money to try to send them to college. And I will pay it off the day I get it.

MARTIN: You want to pay off that mortgage.

Mr. WHITE: I'll pay off that mortgage.

MARTIN: All right.

Mr. WHITE: Then I will buy my my wife go to dialysis three days a week, four hours a day and we have an old car with no air condition ain't working. And I'll buy her I wouldn't buy a new car or used car, but I will buy a car with a good air conditioning.

MARTIN: You want to buy a car with air conditioning so you can take your wife to her dialysis appointments.

Mr. WHITE: That car would be so hot when we get on there.

MARTIN: Sure. Well, that seems very reasonable to me. Is there anything else you would like people to know about you or about what this has been like for you? Do you still like farming?

Mr. WHITE: Yes, indeed. That's all I've been doing since I was a little boy with my father. And then, see, I bought the place for my wife, (unintelligible) she's the one that owns this farm. She wants to keep it in the family. And so I married over in that family, I tried my best to hold onto her (unintelligible). And I'm, with my (unintelligible) and everything, I just do barely made it with (unintelligible).

MARTIN: Well, good luck to you.

Mr. WHITE: Yes ma'am.

MARTIN: Harvey White is a farmer in Prentiss, Mississippi. As you heard, he's taking care of some cattle now for his daughter. But in his time, he has farmed soybean, cotton and wheat. And he looks forward to continuing.

Mr. White, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. WHITE: Yes, ma'am. Thank you.

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