President Biden listens in the background as Tom Vilsack speaks.
President Joe Biden (left) listens as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks during a visit to O'Connor Farm in Kankakee, Illinois, on May 11, 2022. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP via Getty Images)
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Willie Head is so infuriated with President Joe Biden and other Democrats that he’s considering not voting for the party in future elections. 

“I’m here to say for the record, I can’t, I will not vote Democratic again for this kind of results from my Democratic congressional people, and I’m asking everybody of color to not do it,” Head, a Black farmer in Georgia, told Public Integrity earlier this year. “Biden said he had our back. I don’t know where he was standing when he said that. I don’t know where he’s standing now, but he’s not guarding our back.”

Head grows vegetables and raises cattle on dozens of acres in southwest Georgia. Among states in the Republican-dominated southeast, Georgia has what political observers consider a significant proportion of non-white people living outside metropolitan areas – about 1-in-3 are people of color. 

To be sure, the Atlanta metropolitan area has driven Georgia’s growing racial diversity among registered voters. But outside of the region, about 25% of active voters are Black, according to data reported by the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office

Take for example Dougherty, a county that’s 70% Black and sits about 180 miles from Atlanta in southwest Georgia. Trump lost Georgia to Biden by a margin of 11,799 votes; Biden carried Dougherty by 14,127.

Issues of particular concern to rural Blacks are what they consider race-based social and economic inequities, but especially problems such as the scarcity of hospitals and other health care facilities in rural areas. U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, has pushed Georgia to expand Medicaid health insurance coverage, which has been proven to help struggling rural hospitals stay afloat. Warnock also advocated for the American Rescue Plan Act that President Biden signed in March 2021 to provide debt relief for Black and other farmers of color.

Farmers like Head have been pressing the U.S. Department of Agriculture and specifically Secretary Thomas Vilsack for more progress on the program to relieve farm loan debts, a major impediment to their economic profitability and survival.

Head and other Black farmers blame the Biden administration for dragging its feet on implementing Congressionally approved measures. A $4 billion program to relieve the debts of farmers of color is tied up in litigation after court cases brought by individuals and organizations claim the program is reverse discrimination against white farmers. But the Administration has other muscles that it could flex.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, a North Carolina Democrat, urged Secretary Vilsack to quickly use another pot of funds appropriated within the American Rescue Plan to provide financial assistance to farmers of color who are former farm loan borrowers and suffered adverse actions or past discrimination or bias in USDA programs. The funds are a “potential lifeline” for farmers of color while the $4 billion program is stalled, Adams wrote in a letter dated July 29. 

According to a May 2022 report from the White House, the litigation affected “USDA’s ability to efficiently deploy” the Section 1006 funds, which include the funds Adams referenced.  

“I think this issue will have political consequences for the Biden Administration in 2022 and 2024 if they don’t do something about resolving the issue of debt relief for Black farmers,” Lawrence Lucas, president emeritus of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees, told Public Integrity in April.

But it’s not just Black farmers who are turning from Biden. A recent Washington Post-Ipsos poll found that Black voters nationwide were waning in their support for Biden because of unkept campaign promises, and are less enthusiastic about turning out to vote in the Nov. 8 midterm elections than they were about coming out to make sure Trump didn’t get re-elected in 2020.

Whether Black voters will turn out is key to the U.S. Senate race in Georgia between Republican nominee Herschel Walker, the University of Georgia football icon, and incumbent U.S. Senator Warnock, pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, formerly pastored by civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.

Polls reported last week show Walker and Warnock running neck and neck with fewer than 100 days to go. Black voters in Dougherty County and the state’s other majority Black areas with smaller populations can once more play a role in the bigger picture.

For Head and others like him, it’s a bit personal.

“We’re just in a bad place,” he said. “We just going to have to fight for ourselves.”


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April Simpson

April Simpson joined the Center for Public Integrity in October 2020 as a senior reporter covering racial...