Shirley Sherrod, the now former Georgia Director of Rural Development for the Obama administration, was part of an historic settlement with the U.S. Government recently. Ms. Sherrod is co-founder of a group, New Communities, that took part in a lawsuit that successfully sued the government over the rights of minority farmers.

An article at the website http://www.ruraldevelopment.org discussed the case and the $13 million dollar settlement and Ms. Sherrod’s own $150,000 settlement from Uncle Sam.

From the article:

In 1969, New Communities received a planning grant from OEO and was encouraged to expect substantial funding for implementation, but Governor Maddox would not permit further funds for the group to come into the state.

Nevertheless, New Communities built up farming operations to help retain the land. They had highway frontage where they had a farmer’s market to sell their crops. They raised hogs and sold the processed meat in a smokehouse they built on the highway. Their sugar cane mill on the highway also attracted customers. New Communities was ahead of the times in raising eight acres of Muscatine grapes, which are now widely grown in the area. They also farmed 1,500 acres of row crops, including corn, peanuts and soybeans.

Over the years, USDA refused to provide loans for farming or irrigation and would not allow New Communities to restructure its loans. Gradually, the group had to fight just to hold on to the land and finally had to wind down operations.

The cash award acknowledges racial discrimination on the part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the years 1981-85. (President Reagan abolished the USDA Office of Civil Rights when he became President in 1981.) New Communities is due to receive approximately $13 million ($8,247,560 for loss of land and $4,241,602 for loss of income; plus $150,000 each to Shirley and Charles for pain and suffering). There may also be an unspecified amount in forgiveness of debt. This is the largest award so far in the minority farmers’ law suit (Pigford vs Vilsack).

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