When a landmark financial settlement was reached between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and black farmers in 1999, history - it seemed - had finally closed a dark chapter of discrimination.
But a vast majority of applicants to the Pigford v Glickman decision were turned away resulting in another decade of demands and government hand-wringing.
The dispute appears to have reached what could be its final chapter this week with little more than the stroke of a Presidential pen.
President Barack Obama: "We are here today to sign a bill into law that closes a long and unfortunate chapter in our history."
Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Claims Settlement Act of 2010, which will provide funding for the agreements that were reached in separate lawsuits brought by Black farmers and Native American farmers. The bill provides $3.4 billion to American Indian tribes for past royalties from oil, gas, and timber extraction from their lands. And $1.15 billion goes to African-American farmers who said they have been unfairly denied federal loans and other assistance. About 80,000 black farmers who filed claims could receive an average of $50,000 under the settlement.
National Black Farmers Association President John Boyd, a long-time proponent of the USDA payments, praised the decision as long overdue. He said, "I've been working on this for 26 years. This process was a very difficult process. My hat is off to the other Black farmers who have been waiting and who have been helping with this process. It's been an uphill battle."
President Barack Obama: "In the end, the work that is represented on this stage and among these members of Congress, this isn't simply a matter of making amends. It's about reaffirming our values on which this nation was founded –principles of fairness and equality and opportunity. It's about helping families who suffered through no fault of their own, get back on their feet. It's about restoring a sense of trust between the American people and the government that plays such an important role in their lives."
While the bill has overwhelming bipartisan support, not everyone is pleased with the victory for minority farmers. Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, recently accused Obama of favoring African-Americans with his policies, particularly the claims settlement bill. King said, "We have a very, very urban senator in Barack Obama. Obama decides to run for president and what does he do? He introduces legislation to create a whole new Pigford claim."
The initial settlement was named after Timothy Pigford, a black farmer from North Carolina, who was an original plaintiff in the class-action discrimination lawsuit against USDA.
Boyd, who has fought for the settlement for 26 years, says he won't let the comments of people like King get to him. For now, he says he's going to celebrate the victory. But, he admits there's a huge trust factor between black farmers and the U. S. government, and it's going to take some time to repair.
That sentiment was acknowledged by the President and others present at this week's historic signing.
President Barack Obama: "As long as I have the privilege of serving as your President, I will continue to do everything I can to restore that trust. And that's why I am so extraordinarily proud to sign this bill today."