For decades, the United States Department of Agriculture had an unfortunate and checkered history with regards to civil rights. Reports going as far back as the 1960’s have found discrimination at USDA in both program delivery and the treatment of employees, and we are the subject of a number of lawsuits brought by minority farmers and ranchers alleging discrimination. This reputation is so pervasive that USDA has been called “the last plantation.” The bottom of this document addresses this history in more detail in a section entitled “A Brief History of Discrimination at USDA.”
President Obama and Secretary Vilsack have made civil rights a top priority for the Department, and USDA is working to turn the page to move into a new era for civil rights. We are correcting past errors, learning from mistakes, and taking definitive action to ensure that there is no disparity in program benefits based on race, color, sex, age, sexual orientation or disability. It is Secretary Vilsack’s goal that the USDA achieves Abraham Lincoln’s vision of “the people’s department” where each employee and customer is treated fairly and equitably.
You can read the Secretary’s Civil Rights policy statement
here: (HTML) (PDF
Or read his April 2009 memorandum – A New Civil Rights Era for USDA – which outlined a comprehensive approach to ensure fair treatment of all employees and customers: (HTML)(PDF 184KB).