324 Creating Equity: Remove the hundred-pound sandbag from the feet of Black farmers
Day 324: Wednesday, February 3rd, 2020
Creating Equity: Remove the hundred-pound sandbag from the feet of Black farmers
It seems as though many have turned a deaf ear to America’s small farmers and Black farmers alike. . . . Anytime the government gets involved, when they say it’s going to be a speedy payment to farmers, it’s always last for African American farmers, it’s always last for Latino farmers, for small-scale farmers and for women farmers. - John Boyd
How will we ever get to racial equity when racism is rooted so deeply in the soil of America? This is a question I ask myself as we examine our role in suppressing people of color. Here's are a few paragraphs from a story that stuck with me from a couple of years ago about Black farmers who face white privilege built into federal and state farm programs designed to assist farmers.
John Boyd Jr’s grandfather Thomas, the son of a slave, slept with the deed to his farm under his mattress. He worried constantly that his land near Baskerville Virginia would be taken from him.
Today John Boyd lives on his own 210-acre farm with rows of soybeans that go almost up to his front door. One hundred cattle, a cluster of guinea hogs, three goats and a small herding dog named Fatso, whom Boyd calls his best friend, live there.
He feels more secure on his plot of land than Thomas did. But Boyd is an aberration.
The number of black farmers in America peaked in 1920, when there were 949,889. Today, of the country’s 3.4 million total farmers, only 1.3%, or 45,508, are black, according to new figures from the US Department of Agriculture. They own a mere 0.52% of America’s farmland. By comparison, 95% of US farmers are white.
The black farmers who have managed to hold on to their farms eke out a living today. They make less than $40,000 annually, compared with over $190,000 by white farmers, which is probably because their average acreage is about one-quarter that of white farmers.
As a fourth-generation farmer, Boyd has witnessed other black farmers do the same thing he’s done: claw at the dirt in an attempt to hold on to it. And Boyd has devoted himself to helping other black farmers, always remembering the words he heard his grandfather Thomas mumble over and over:
“The land don’t know color.
The land never mistreated me, people do.”
He needs 45 bushels from each acre to make a profit. To avoid being docked – getting priced down for moisture or debris in the bushels – he asks his wife, Kara Brewer Boyd, to enlist her white stepfather to sell the beans for him. When the white man takes Boyd’s beans, he’s not docked but complimented.
(John and Kara Boyd)
“I lose money if I sell them myself,” he says. "When I have my white father in law sell them I make money. In 2019, that shouldn’t be happening. I shouldn’t be losing money because I’m black.”
Boyd’s had time to get used to this mistreatment. His struggle for equal footing started as soon as he bought his first farm for $51,000 at age 18 in 1984. He went to the Farmers Home Administration, a lending branch of the USDA, about 90 miles from Baskerville to apply for operating loans. Year after year, his applications were denied or delayed.
(Baskerville Virginia County Seat: Mecklenburg County Courthouse)
“Looked at your application and we ain’t gonna be able to help you this year,” he says the loan officer would tell him. Once, Boyd says, a white farmer interrupted their meeting, exchanged quick pleasantries with the loan officer, and walked out, having not even applied, with a check for $157,000. “And I’m begging for $5,000,” Boyd recalls, shaking his head.
In subsequent visits, the loan officer told Boyd he better learn to talk to him like other black folks did, took naps during meetings, threw Boyd’s applications straight into the trash and spat his chewing tobacco on Boyd’s shirt, claiming to have missed his spittoon.
“It's not fair, not right how America
treats its Black farmers”
The officer only took meetings with the nine black farmers in the county on Wednesdays. “He would leave the door open and speak loudly and boastfully so that we could hear just how bad he was talking to each one of us,” Boyd says.
Boyd filed six complaints against the officer for discriminatory treatment and eventually the USDA Civil Rights Office of Virginia investigated the officer, who admitted to the treatment Boyd noted in his complaints. Boyd then filed and won the first-ever discrimination lawsuit against the USDA.
The successful investigation on Boyd’s behalf prompted other black farmers to come forward with their stories.
“All these farmers were coming out of the woodwork saying, You think what happened to you is bad? You should hear my story!’” he says. “I was just trying to save my farm."
“Black farmers have waited long enough.”
In 1997, Boyd and 400 other black farmers sued the USDA in the landmark lawsuit Pigford v Glickman, which alleged that from 1981 to 1997, USDA officials ignored complaints brought to them by black farmers and that they were denied loans and other support because of rampant discrimination. In 1999, the government settled the case for $1bn, and more than 16,000 black farmers received $50,000 each.
(The Boyd Family)
As people of faith, we can help Black farmers by supporting their farms and working to pass progressive legislation that seeks to create a more equitable loan system.
Excerpts from a story by Summer Sewell
To the Negro Farmers of the United States
God washes clean the souls and hearts of you,
His favored ones, whose backs bend o’er the soil,
Which grudging gives to them requite for toil
In sober graces and in vision true.
God places in your hands the pow’r to do
A service sweet. Your gift supreme to foil
The bare-fanged wolves of hunger in the moil
Of Life’s activities. Yet all too few
Your glorious band, clean sprung from Nature’s heart;
The hope of hungry thousands, in whose breast
Dwells fear that you should fail. God placed no dart
Of war within your hands, but pow’r to start
Tears, praise, love, joy, enwoven in a crest
To crown you glorious, brave ones of the soil.
BY ALICE MOORE DUNBAR-NELSON
The Young Black Farmers Defying A Legacy of Discrimination (short documentary)
Luke Bryan - Here's To The Farmer
PETE SEEGER - THE FARMER IS THE MAN - LIVE 1966