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Black farmers are fast becoming a dying breed. Just 1.4% of farmers in the U.S. identify as Black compared with 14% 100 years ago—fewer than 35,000 Black-run farms in the nation.
Farmers such as John Boyd Jr. have struggled for decades, in fact, really for centuries. Because despite the fact that this nation was built on the backs of Black enslaved people and then after the Civil War by sharecropping Black farmers, these men and women have yet to get their fair share. Not to mention their 40 acres and a mule.
For Boyd, a third-generation farmer in Virginia, the fight for equality began in 1983 when he decided to buy land from a fellow farmer by the name of Russell Sally.
“Then, he asked me where I was going to get my money from,” Boyd told Daily Kos.
The decades-long battle between the USDA and Black farmers.
Russell told Boyd to see the Farmer’s Home Administration (FHA); an organization established in 1949 to “improve the quality of life in rural America and narrow the economic gap between rural and urban communities,” according to Agricultural History. The FHA historically succeeded in helping white farmers, but the New Deal was never made good on for Black farmers. The FHA became the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and they’ve continued their discriminatory practices.
John Boyd Jr.
Boyd says he went to the FHA and learned that Russell’s farm had been foreclosed on, so no matter what the farm was worth, it wasn’t worth anything to the lending officer at the FHA He says his application was torn up and thrown into the trash.
After several years of trying and being rejected he eventually filed a discrimination complaint through his local civil rights office in Baskerville, Virginia. He fought for years, and in that time money for his farm from family ran out. He lost his poultry contract and was forced into bankruptcy. After 15 years of fighting, and learning about the massive number of discriminations cases by other Black farmers who were also refused loans, in 1995, he decided to form the National Black Farmers Association.
Four years later, in 1999, the USDA settled a class-action suit by Black farmers against the USDA for refusing loans based on race. Each farmer was awarded $50,000. But, many of the farmers didn’t know about the money. In fact, only 85% of those eligible ever received it before the time ran out for them to apply.
Boyd met with Obama’s senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, to ask for help getting the bill passed in the Senate in 2010.
Boyd went back to Congress in 2008 to fight the statute of limitations on the $50K, and in 2010, President Barack Obama signed a $1.15 billion measure to settle the discrimination claims between the USDA and the Black farmers.
At the time, the President said he hoped that “the farmers and their families who were denied access to USDA loans and programs will be made whole and will have the chance to rebuild their lives and their businesses.”
The farmers who’d missed the deadline in 1997 were given the opportunity to file again.
COVID-19 relief for farmers, again leaves Black farmers in the cold.
Tucked into President Joe Biden’s massive $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill is the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act, a provision that includes $5 billion for “socially disadvantaged farmers of color”—Black, Latino, Indigenous, and Asian American farmers.
The money has the potential to begin to right the wrongs of over a century of abuse of Black farmers by the government and a plethora of corrupt, biased agencies. But, Texas Republican Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller challenged the law, blocking the farmers from the money they were rightfully due.
“All these white farmers out on the federal court, talking about reverse discrimination. I read the complaint, and I’ll be honest with you, I almost fell out of my chair,” Boyd says. “They left out the part that says they got debt relief the whole time and pretty much all the loans. I mean, $1 million per farmer and subsidies, meaning they don’t even have to pay it back.
“While we, Black farmers, are getting foreclosed on, white farmers are getting debt relief. In all the years I went to court, I never once sued to stop white farmers from getting anything. These guys went to court to deny Black farmers our justice. And it’s a continuation of Jim Crow. They want everything, and we should have nothing,” Boyd says.
“I’d like to as these white farmers if they’ve ever been spat on. Or called ‘n*****.’ Or had their loan applications thrown in the trash. If they want to talk about fairness and equity and reverse discrimination. They don’t know what discrimination is.”
John Boyd Jr.
Why we should ALL boycott PepsiCo.
Boyd says he’d like to give corporate America an F- for its lack of effort and support. And PepsiCo is a prime example.
Despite its recent performative changes to the Aunt Jemima brand, following public outcry, in all the years of the multi-billion-dollar company’s existence, PepsiCo has never given Black farmers a piece of the pie.
So, when the company told Boyd they were ready to sit down and discuss a potato delivery contract, he was hopeful.
After a year and a half of jumping through every hoop presented, Boyd met via Zoom with PepsiCo executives. “Now mind you,” Boyd says, “I wanted the same contract as white farmers. We wanted the same opportunity to prove we could deliver on the job and we wanted to get paid the same as the contract prices as the white farmers.”
But, when Boyd came to the meeting, instead of a couple of executives, there were ten. “I knew then the deck was stacked against me. I was told they were ‘going in a different direction and it wouldn’t include the NBFA.’”
Boyd has called for a boycott against the company and is trying to fight them in court. But, he acknowledges this as an uphill battle.
Just level the playing field for Black farmers.
“We just want the same opportunities for corporate contracts. Corporate American needs to do better by Black farmers. Banks need to do better and open their purse strings to lending money to Black farmers,” Boyd says.
Boyd, tired from years of fighting a form of redlining at the hands of the USDA, says that in his mind, the whole battle can be summed up in two words…same as. The Black farmers simply want to be treated the same as the white farmers.
“Here’s the thing. I’m a 6-foot-tall, 240 pound Black man. I’ve got a baritone voice and dark skin. I’m the epitome of a Black man in this country. I don’t want this country to look at me and that’s all they see. I want them to look at me and say, ‘this guy’s been farming since 1983. He knows his trade, his art, his skill. Let’s see what we can do to work with him. That’s what America has to do. And until we are able to accept that, we’re going to continue to have the same discussion,” Boyd says.
The Good Fight is a series spotlighting progressive activists around the nation battling injustice in communities that are typically underserved and brutalized by a system that overlooks them. If you know of any activists who you think should be profiled, please send a message to the author.
If you’d like to help Black Farmers, click here to donate. The money goes toward fighting the lawsuits against discrimination.
This content was originally published here.