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Atlanta voices rise in national debates over racism in the economy

Atlanta Fed President/CEO Raphael Bostic. Credit: Sadat Karim, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

By David Pendered

Atlanta has a significant presence in the national debate over the future of Black-owned farms and properties, as well as the Federal Reserve’s role in discussing racism in the economy, which is being challenged by the Senate Banking Committee.

Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic was singled out by the Senate Banking Committee for ideas expressed in his 2020 essay, ‘A Moral and Economic Imperative to End Racism.’ Credit: Credit: Sadat Karim via Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

Participants include U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Atlanta), chair of the House Agriculture Committee; Georgia ACT President Bambie Hayes-Brown; and Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic.

Their voices in this era’s discussion of civil and human rights continue the region’s leadership role in vetting complex topics. Two recent examples that reached the national arena include the City of Atlanta’s precedent-setting domestic partner registry in 1993, and the state’s new elections law, Senate Bill 202, now the subject of a federal lawsuit filed against Georgia by the Justice Department.

Scott has argued in support of a $5 billion federal loan forgiveness program for an estimated 17,000 Black, Indigenous American, Hispanic Asian American or Pacific Island farmers and ranchers. The program is included in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, sections 1005 and 1006, and is challenged in federal lawsuits.

Scott issued a statement after federal judge temporarily halted payments in a ruling issued in a case a Wisconsin lawsuit, filed on behalf 12 white farmers. Scott’s statement includes these remarks:

David Scott

  • “This shameful lawsuit is racial discrimination at its worst against our nation’s Black farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers – and I do not say this lightly, because white farmers already own 98 percent of all the farmland in the United States and Black farmers own just one percent….
  • “The very survival of Black farmers is at stake – and this would be an unpardonable sin because we, as Black slaves, did the hard work and provided the foundation for America’s great agriculture system for free, for over 200 years, under the lash of the slave masters’ whips.”

Hayes-Brown is focused on Georgia’s $34-plus billion of heirs property, a sum cited in a 2019 report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Blacks are thought to own much of this property. Some of these individuals may be land rich, but can’t sell the property or use it for collateral for grants to farm the land or make other purchases because the previous owner died without a properly administered will.

Heirs property is sometimes viewed as a rural issue. Hayes-Brown contends it’s relevant in metro Atlanta. It can affect folks who inherited land and structures from ancestors who stayed on a farm, as well as those who inherit a house in metro Atlanta from someone who moved from a farm and didn’t leave a proper will. Atlanta has encountered heirs property when building the Atlanta BeltLine, with the Atlanta City Council authorizing condemnation proceedings to acquire land when no clear title exists.

Brown said she encountered the issue when she worked in DeKalb County, before joining Georgia ACT:

Bambie Hayes-Brown

Bambie Hayes-Brown

  • “When I worked for the DeKalb Housing Authority, from 2002 to 2011, we had a housing repair program we operated for the county. Some homeowners – I hesitate to say homeowners because they don’t own the home, but they think they do – couldn’t access the money because they were in heirs property. We’d do a title search and the property was in the name of a deceased person. They couldn’t get the grant.
  • “It’s very complicated and ends up with homes going further and further into disrepair, and families unable to make repairs on their own because of the cost of living in substandard housing, and they can’t access government programs to get their homes fixed.
  • “Since I’ve come to Georgia ACT, I haven’t gone into a county yet where it isn’t an issue.”

Bostic, the Fed’s first Black branch president, was challenged in a May 23 letter by the Senate Banking Committee for his work to define and discuss racism in the economy. The letter was addressed to Bostic by ranking committee member Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penna.).

Toomey escalated the matter with a June 30 statement cautioning that a “legislative solution” may result from a “lack of transparency and accountability” by Fed branches in Atlanta, Boston, Minneapolis and San Francisco.

A spokesperson for the Atlanta Fed issued this statement Monday afternoon:

  • “We responded to Sen. Toomey’s initial request from late May and offered him a briefing with President Bostic. We provided a staff briefing in June and hope to continue conversations about the Senator’s inquiry.”

The May 23 letter from Toomey to Bostic states, in part:

Pat Toomey

  • “Under your leadership, the Atlanta Fed increasingly has focused on politically charged social causes, like racial justice activism, that are wholly unrelated to the Federal Reserve’s statutory mandate….
  • “Indeed, after examining the contents of the Atlanta Fed’s website, including your ‘Message from the President’ described above and the ‘Racism and the Economy‘ series that you have personally endorsed and promoted, I am left with the impression that you believe that a primary role of the Atlanta Fed is to thrust itself into highly charged issues of race and politics rather than focusing on carrying out the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate enshrined in statute.
  • “Whether or not this is your personal view, I would remind you that only Congress has the authority to reform the Federal Reserve or modify its statutory mission.18Moreover, I would caution you on the reputational damage being inflicted on the Atlanta Fed and the Federal Reserve as a whole by pursuing a highly politicized social agenda unrelated to monetary policy.”

Note to readers: Heirs Property – On July 15, in Albany, a seminar on wills and heirs property that’s supported by Georgia ACT is to be hosted by the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. For information: 404-765- 0991 or [email protected].

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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