A Black attorney known for championing the rights of Black Americans led and won the largest civil rights settlement in the history of civil justice in the U.S.
Greg Francis defended the rights of 33,000 Black farmers who allegedly suffered systemic discrimination at the hands of the United States Department of Agriculture between 1981 and 1996, according to Black News.
The Department of Agriculture allegedly denied Black farmers loans, subsidies, and other benefits provided to White farmers.
Attorney Francis represented the 33,000 Black farmers and won $1.25 billion on their behalf as settlement.
The more than 33,000 farmers or their heirs reportedly received $50,000 as part of the settlement, making it the largest civil rights settlement in U.S. history, Black News reported.
In his book, “Just Harvest: The Story of How Black Farmers Won the Largest Civil Rights Case against the U.S. Government,” Francis revealed how he managed to do that.
“The one thing I learned from that case is that all those farmers wanted was a chance,” Francis said. “They didn’t ask for anything extra. They just wanted to be treated, and to be given the same opportunities, like everyone else. That’s all any of us want.”
Francis was working at the law firm, Morgan & Morgan, when he and his team started getting some calls about a case involving Black farmers. Francis would later start talking to the Black farmers, holding meetings in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and other states that had Black-owned farms.
The original case was from a lawsuit by Timothy Pigford, a Black farmer who was growing corn and soybeans in North Carolina, reports said. Pigford said he was denied loans because of racism, which had a negative impact on his business. He sued the federal government, which made U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman the named defendant.
“In those farming communities, there would be an extension office from the USDA, and that served as a conduit to interface with individual farmers,” Francis explained to i4 Business. “Every year the USDA appropriates a certain amount of money that it lends to farmers so they can buy land, tractors, feed or whatever it’s going to take to get the crops going. The white farmers would go in and get their loan and be able to ply their trade, and the Black farmers would come in and sometimes get the runaround. They’d hear, ‘We’re out of money’ or ‘You’re in the wrong office. You should be at this other extension office.’”
According to Black News, Francis has since created The Greg A. Francis Just Harvest Foundation that is built on the three pillars that he believes will help set America on the path to true justice and ensure an end to racial discrimination.
These pillars are; Investing in the infrastructure of the Black family, creating educational opportunities for Black youth and encouraging the creation of new Black-owned businesses and more support of those already existing.
Growing up in the low-income Richmond Heights neighborhood west of Orlando, Francis wanted to become a professional athlete but later changed his mind when he joined a fraternity he heard talking about law school.