Nat’l Black Farmers Assoc. John Boyd, Jr.

National Black Farmers Association president explains why he feels the USDA has not been a friend to the nation’s Black farmers.

After trying for years to get a loan from the USDA and hearing similar stories about a decades-old system of racial discrimination within the agency, John Boyd, Jr. decided to fight back. The fourth-generation farmer founded the VA-based National Black Farmers Association as a way to bring the plight of African American farmers into the national spotlight. He was successful in getting new legislation within the '08 Farm Bill, which effectively reopened the government's discrimination settlement, and continues to be a tireless advocate.


Tavis: John Boyd, Jr. is a fourth generation farmer who is the founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association. Early today he held a press conference to highlight the failure of the U.S. Senate to approve a $1.25 billion settlement promised to African American farmers. He joins us tonight from New York. John Boyd, good to have you on the program, sir.
John Boyd, Jr.: Tavis, it’s good to be here and I’d first like to begin just to thank you for your years involvement – for being involved with the Black farmers and continuing to raise the issue.
Tavis: It’s my honor to do so, and I wanted you on tonight because this issue is at a critical place now. Finally, after years of dealing with this, all that needs to finally happen is for Congress, when they come back from Labor Day recess, to have the courage to vote what has already been agreed to. They simply need to have the courage to cast the vote to approve a settlement that’s already been reached.
Now, I start with that because when I first started my television career, my national TV career back in 1996, I had you on my TV show then to talk about this issue.
Boyd: Yes, you did. Yes, you did.
Tavis: My calendar now says 2010 and we are still trying to get a settlement for African American farmers. So let me start by asking right quick for you to give the back story for what this billion-dollar settlement is all about and why we were talking about this in ’96 and we’re still talking about it in 2010. Why?
Boyd: Well, we had the same issue that we had in 1996, when we had 50 Black farmers that came to Washington. That same night we were on your show talking about the discrimination at the United States Department of Agriculture, the land laws.
At the turn of the century Black farmers owned over 20 million acres of land. Today we’re down to less than 3 million acres. Black farmers have been shut out of U.S. farm subsidy programs, where the top 10 percent recipients are corporate farmers and large-scale white farmers receive on average $1 million and Black farmers receive only $200.
The poor processing time as it relates to Black farmers, 387 days processing time for a loan application and less than 30 days for a white loan application. And Black farmers were denied loan applications in the South at USDA. That’s what brought us to filing lawsuits and several different states before we were victorious in filing a lawsuit in Washington, D.C. in 1996, and that class action lawsuit was settled by a consent decree in 1999, where Black farmers were supposed to receive $50,000 per farmer.
Nearly 14,000 Black farmers were victorious; 9,000 Black farmers were denied the opportunity to take part in the lawsuit. In 1981 the Reagan administration closed the Office of Civil Rights at USDA and it didn’t reopen, Tavis, until the Clinton administration, and that gave us the definition for the lawsuit where Black farmers had to file a case between 1981 and 1996, and based on the fact that that civil rights office was closed, 80,000 Black farmers missed the filing deadline. There was never class notification by USDA to notify the Black farmers about the settlement.
That pretty much brings us up to where we are today, and we lobbied Congress to allow those 80,000 Black farmers to have their cases heard based on its merit. That bill passed in 2008, and here we are in the year 2010, still looking for those cases to be heard based on its merits, and Tavis, I’ve been in this fight now 26 years and I was also discriminated against by the United States Department of Agriculture.
I’m a fourth generation farmer and I can tell you that USDA has not been a friend to our nation’s Black farmers.
Tavis: Just for the record, the USDA you’re talking about, the Department of Agriculture you’re talking about is the same department where we had this Shirley Sherrod nonsense just a few weeks ago, yes?
Boyd: Absolutely, and the Black farmers have been raising the issue of discrimination, and when that came up I actually questioned how could this lady be fired for helping a white farmer where the government thought that they were discriminating against her, and here we’ve been – we have 80,000 Black farmers, and absolutely no one has been fired for the act of discrimination.
That’s what I’m talking about here. I think that there is not a double standard but a triple standard when it comes to justice and fairness for Black farmers at the United States Department of Agriculture, and the way that they treat white farmers where they process and get loans on time and take part in the U.S. farm subsidy program, and Black farmers continue to finish last. We’ve been fighting to change that at USDA for a very, very long time.
Tavis: So what is in front of Congress in terms of the vote that they ought to have? What’s in front of them to vote on and why have they not voted on it as yet?
Boyd: Well, it did – it has passed the House twice, once in a tax extenders bill and once in the Afghanistan war bill. We were attached to both of those measures and it did pass at two separate times in the House.
Tavis: Right.
Boyd: But we have had an outstanding, just a very, very difficult time in the Senate where the bill has failed seven times. It’s been attached to all various types of moving bills, and we had two unanimous consent bills that failed twice, and it’s a divided House right now in the Senate and we need for the Senate to stop playing politics with the lives of Black farmers.
Tavis, these farmers are dying. That’s the story here. I’m actually going to more funerals now and delivering eulogies, last week a farmer right in Dunwoody County, Virginia. So these farmers are just dying and it’s sad that they have to die without receiving their settlement, but the Senate needs to act when they come back into session on September 13th and give us a real cloture vote for the Black farmers where we can get 60 votes so the Black farmers can receive their settlement.
Tavis: What’s the Senate stalling about, and what’s the Obama administration said or done about this?
Boyd: Well, I would like to see the president do just a little more to help the Black farmers and take a final step by urging Leader Reid and the minority leader to work together to get a bill out of the Senate for the Black farmers. A few weeks ago there was a deal with Senator Blanche Lincoln where that group of farmers for disaster payments.
The administration put an administrative deal on the table for $1.5 billion and the Black farmers left the Senate and went home with nothing. I would like to see the administration reach out to us and offer us an administrative deal the way that they did the corporate farmers and the large-scale white farmers before the Senate went out to recess.
Tavis: So what’s the White House’s response as to why they are not doing that? Let me ask first – have you asked them to do that?
Boyd: Oh, you know absolutely I’ve asked.
Tavis: So what are they saying?
Boyd: Tavis, I’ve reached out to the administration and asked for meetings to have discussions about this. I have not had the opportunity to meet with the president and I’ve sought after that meeting for a very long time. I’m hopeful that after they come back into session I’ll be able to sit down with the president and see what his vision is on next steps on how to get the funds for Black farmers.
So this is one time where Black folks have actually done everything right. We have a settlement agreement, we have a vindication in the courts where we have a judgment against the United States Department of Agriculture, we’ve lobbied Congress to reopen the case successfully.
We’ve done everything right, and we should not be asked to wait another day longer. The Senate needs to act and the administration needs to lean just a little bit harder on the Senate to get a good, clean bill out of the Senate for Black farmers and not put us in bills where they know there’s not a snowball’s chance of us actually getting something done.
I’m no longer interested in a UC vote. I’m interested in a cloture vote before the end of the month of September so that the Black farmers can receive their settlement. This just has been going on too long. This has been going on too longs and if this fails it’s not just a failure for the Black farmers, this is a failure for Black people in this country, and it would be a failure for the American people if we can’t get this done.
The oldest occupation in history for Black people in this country is farming, and here it looks like the last persons in this country that can get justice. Something is terribly wrong with that picture.
Tavis: See, for me, this is not about Black or white, it’s about wrong and right, and that’s why I wanted you on tonight.
Boyd: Yes, absolutely.
Tavis: Let me ask you finally, then, for all those Americans of good conscience, not whether you’re Black or white or brown or red or Yellow, but for all Americans watching right now of conscience, what is it that the American people can do right now to help you in this instance?
Boyd: Right now they can reach out and call their U.S. senator and say, “Pass the Black farmers bill,” and I’m urging everybody to do that. If they have a good conscience and want to correct a wrong here, here is an opportunity for America to do that.
I do want to put a plug in for the other lawsuits that are out there, the Native American Indian lawsuit that’s moving parallel through Congress with the Black farmers. There’s a Hispanic case, the Garcia case, there’s a woman’s case, the Love case, and I would like to see closure for all of those cases, and I do think that all those cases warrant merit.
But I would like to say that what happened to the Black farmers in this country is nothing less than a national disgrace, and it went under the radar screen, so to speak, of national media, so I’m hopeful that the recent events and what we’re trying to do to raise the awareness about what’s going on with Black farmers, we’ll finally be able to say that justice has prevailed for Black farmers when they receive their settlement. It’s just taking too long.
Tavis: Well, as I mentioned at the top of this conversation, I talked to John Boyd early in my TV career back in 1996 –
Boyd: Yes, you did.
Tavis: – about this very issue, and here we are still dealing with it. I don’t believe that justice delayed has to be justice denied.
Boyd: That’s right.
Tavis: So I hope that we can get this issue resolved with quickness. John Boyd, thank you for your struggle all these years. Honored to have you on this program.
Boyd: Tavis, thank you and again, thank you so very much for raising and continuing to raise the plight of Black farmers in this country. Thank you very much.
Tavis: It’s my honor. My duty, in fact, for that matter.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm