Wenceslaus “June” Provost Jr. and Angie Provost to receive 2022 Illuminating Injustice Award
Provost Farm, a Black-owned, 5,000-acre farm under the management of Wenceslaus “June” Provost Jr., and his wife, Angie, went from being one of the most productive, award-winning sugarcane farms in the country to losing all of its land and property through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) loan guarantee program, which is supposed to help farmers through its flexibility in distributing loan proceeds throughout the crop year in a way that supports their operations and facilitates successful farming.
Instead, their local bank and the USDA’s FSA approved years of unfeasible loans, while the bank improved its collateral through a series of racially discriminatory actions and imposed conditions and interest payments different than similarly-situated white farmers, including often delaying providing loan proceeds to them, making the crop impossible to produce and the loans impossible to pay off. Once the Provosts were unable to pay their loans, white farmers purchased Provost Farm’s land and took over farming operations and leased land.
The Provosts first filed a lawsuit against the lender on September 21, 2018, alleging that Black farmers were racially discriminated against and treated differently than similarly-situated white farmers under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA).
After obtaining their loan files through a local FSA officer, the Provosts soon learned that they had been intentionally discriminated against, and that the bank changed their loan applications without their knowledge, including photo-copying June’s signature and reducing the requested loan amounts. In addition, the bank improved its collateral against the farm, adding June’s father’s debt to the Provosts’ obligation as a condition of lending money to them, as well as advancing funds from another year’s loan to pay a previous year’s obligation. The bank also forced June to reduce his sugarcane acreage despite expert recommendations from Louisiana State University agronomists suggesting otherwise.
In June 2021, the two parties resolved the litigation, and the Eastern District Court of Louisiana dismissed the Provosts’ case. Meanwhile, a provision of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which included FSA loan forgiveness for “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers”, including Black farmers, incentivized the Provosts to conclude the litigation. Unfortunately, that relief is being held hostage through apparently racially motivated stay orders issued in some federal courts, leaving the Provosts’ home and everything else they own in further limbo.
What happened to the Provosts is unfortunately not unique, and is part of a trend that Black farmers in both the south and across the country are all too familiar with as they continue to endure racial discrimination at the hands of banks and the USDA and FSA.
Provost Farm has dedicated its remaining assets and the efforts of its principals to teaching the history, injustice, and lessons of Black farmers to the world. The Provosts are committed to using Public Justice’s Illuminating Injustice award as part of their mission.
Legal team: Andrew Lemmon of Lemmon Law Firm in Hahnville, La.