Even after a court settlement ordering the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pay black farmers for past discrimination and to offer more loans, black farmers said Thursday that they still can’t borrow money.
Farmers from around the state gathered at the Lafayette Hilton to hear USDA officials, attorneys and national black farmer groups discuss what’s being done to try to alleviate the problems.
Raymond Jones, who raises potatoes and corn on a small farm in Avoyelles Parish, said he and other black farmers in central Louisiana have problems with banks.
“You go in to get some money and the banks in my area have a map of the city and communities where people live,” he said. The maps are color-coded as to the race and economic status of residents in the communities.
“If you’re from a black area, you flat out won’t get a loan. If you’re from the green area, it’s because you’ve got a great job and money in the bank. You’ll get a loan. It’s been going on for years and it’s not going to change,” Jones said.
State Rep. Roy Burrell, D-Shreveport, organizer of the black farmer segment of a Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus issues retreat, said loan denial is “one of the largest discriminatory issues since we got started with civil rights.”
Peter Williams, president of the Louisiana Black Farmers Association, said “the reason loans are being denied is not the FSA (Farm Service Agency of USDA). It’s the banks. They want our land. If they don’t make loans,” farmers can’t raise crops, “and they get our land. Loans are being denied because there’s a system that wants what you have.”
Jerilyn Bowie-Hill, of Lafayette, a retired UL-Lafayette business law and marketing professor whose family has farmed property in Grant Parish since the Civil War, said the state should commission a study to identify black farmers in Louisiana and what they grow. That information could be used to develop a marketing plan.
The plan could answer, “How do I market for maximum profit for my family and the state of Louisiana that will collect taxes on what we produce?” she said.
Bowie-Hill said most black farmers, “like my father (Jesse Bowie Jr.), had many negative experiences trying to get loans. His policy was to borrow only when he had to protect his family. That’s how we have been able to hold our land.”