There was a time long ago when the crops produced by America’s Black farmers fed most of the country. It took them a full two generations following the abolishment of slavery, but by 1910 Black farmers were tilling the soil of 16 million acres. But that was then. These days they’re only digging up 4.7 million acres and their numbers have dropped from 925,000 to under 36,000 which equates to one out of 14 farmers being Black.
Newly freed slaves never did receive their promised “40 acres and a mule” but it didn’t stop them from securing small parcels of land on which to grow what was needed. As many of them became more enterprising they applied for expansion loans to buy more land, seed, and farm equipment.
Most of them were turned away by lenders which also included the USDA. In fact, the USDA at the time was more in the business of foreclosing on Black-owned property at every opportunity. Suppliers overcharged the farmers and buyers would only pay a slight portion of what they gladly paid to white farmers for the identical type of produce.
White’s citing inheritance laws managed to strip many up-and-coming Black farmers of the land they thought was legally theirs. Yet despite all efforts to dissuade the farmers from flourishing, almost one million of them still managed to.
Since that time some things have changed, but not nearly as much as one might think. Not nearly enough to make farming an eagerly sought-after opportunity for Blacks who don’t care to be subjected to the racism that still exists within the industry.
The U.S. government plans to change all of this. They’ve apologized for their past indiscretions. As a good-faith gesture, they want to give billions of dollars to be equally distributed between what remains of America’s Black-owned farms, and they want to make it part of a pandemic package though the pandemic has not one single thing to do with the situation.
While the government believes their intentions are good, they’ve totally missed the mark, and as a result, the money they were getting ready to hand out isn’t going anywhere for a while, if it goes at all. A judge, on behalf of a group of white farmers, has ordered the government to hold their horses, citing reverse discrimination as the reason.
Black farmers aren’t taking not receiving their money very well and they say they are deserving of every penny. It’s them who have been the victims of a terrible injustice and had it not been for their ancestor’s land being unrightfully stolen, and still being cheated in today’s market, they probably wouldn’t need any assistance.
Black farmer John Wesley Boyd Jr. said past and present prejudices have everything to do with his and other Black farmers’ predicament. “I think discrimination is still pervasive. I think that it’s done in a much subtler way,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to see many USDA officials spitting on people now or maybe calling them colored, but they aren’t lending them any money — the way they lend white farmers.”
As another example of today’s times, Boyd’s wife, Kara, told a story of when her husband took a load of soybeans to a grain mill and only received a minimal payment for his crop. He was told the beans had too much moisture and bits of unusable scrap.
Kara, who is not Black but white and Native American, also brought in a load of the same crop at a separate time than her husband had. She still didn’t fare well but she did get paid a bit more than he had. Later, Boyd’s father-in-law, who is white, brought in yet a third load. He got top dollar and remembers them telling him they were the best beans they’d seen before asking him how many more could he bring them.
In 1980 when Boyd bought his first parcel of land at only 18 he could only go to the USDA for a loan on Wednesdays when their only Black loan officer who handled all of the Black accounts worked. It was known as Black Wednesday. At other times and at other places he recalls having his application torn up and even being spit on by a white loan officer who claimed to have missed the spittoon.
Boyd showed the Associated Press how some of his requests for operating money through the USDA had taken years to process, and how an error in their system had them attempting to quickly foreclose on a portion of his land that he had to fight like hell to save.
There have been many, many, similar stories throughout the years, but in many respects, new chapters continue to be written despite the passage of time. When will they receive the money they’re waiting on to save what they can salvage, or will it be too late when and if they ever see a dime of it? It’s an impossible question to answer.