Two generations after being freed from slavery, Black farmers had accumulated more than 16,000,000 acres of land by 1910. They accounted for about 14 percent of all farmers. Their labors provided food for large parts of America.
They now have less than 4.7 millions acres. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's most recent farm census, black farms have declined from 925,000 to less than 36,000. Only one in 100 farmers are Black.
What has happened?
They were able overcome the broken promise of 40 acres and a mule to newly freed slaves -- an order in military history that was later cancelled. They faced many obstacles over the past century because of their race.
To expand and buy seed to help bridge the gap between harvests, farmers needed loans. The USDA was the most prominent lender, refusing to lend them money and sometimes rushing to foreclose. Customers and suppliers undercut them. Homesteads were destroyed by laws of inheritance.
The government is now trying to make amends and provide billions in debt forgiveness for farmers of colour as part of the pandemic aid package. A judge has halted the money because of lawsuits by white farmers alleging that the program is unfair.
The descendants of Black farmers who lost their stakes and struggled today argue that they are the ones who have suffered injustice.
Virginia farmer who was barely able to keep a portion of his farm after the USDA threatened to auction it. Kansas farmer who lost land that his grandparents had homesteaded. Arkansas farmer, who is hanging on to his life and praying for federal assistance.
John Wesley Boyd Jr. says it was racism.
"I believe discrimination is still widespread. Boyd believes that discrimination is still pervasive, but in a more subtle way. "I don’t believe you’ll see many USDA officials spitting at people now or calling them colored. But they aren’t lending them any money the same way they lend white farmers.
Boyd, 55, controls his John Deere tractor using his left hand and holds a rusty, mud-encrusted, horseshoe in the right. It was found in a field by a worker and has become a symbol of strength.
As the squeaky-creaky gardener cuts rows into the rock soil, he said that the horseshoe seen here was probably made from one of the mules. "Because that was what the Blacks used. They didn't use any tractors like this man.
Boyd sows his cash crop of soybeans on a hot summer day. He makes passes up and down a 1,000-acre parcel along the Roanoke River in Virginia. This is one of many parcels that Boyd owns. He also has 1,500 acres, some of which he inherited from his ancestors as slaves.
It's now his. It's sometimes hard to believe.