By Ralph Paige

I have never seen a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) like this one. At the very beginning of the Obama administration, Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, has developed initiatives to address the extensive and infamous civil rights problems at USDA.

Usually, lip service is paid to these problems shortly before the end of an administration and nothing is done as a result. But this time it looks to be a different and new era at the USDA. The “People’s Department,” which is what its creator President Abraham Lincoln called the Department of Agriculture, might actually become a department for the people. I applaud the secretary’s efforts.

For more than 40 years and through nine administrations I’ve personally seen black farmers discriminated against by the USDA. I’ve seen discrimination complaints submitted to the USDA by black farmers shoved aside, thrown out or not processed.