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There Were Nearly a Million Black Farmers in 1920 — What Happened?

Black farmers in the 1920's

In the year 1920, the number of Black farmers in the U.S. peaked at 949,889. Since then, however, that number has never increased and instead has consistently spiraled downward. Today, there are merely 45,508 Black farmers, most of whom are struggling to make a decent living. It's no surprise that racial discrimination is the main reason why!
John Boyd Jr., who is 53-years old, came from a family of farmers. As a 4th-generation farmer, he knew the hardships that his ancestors had to go through just to keep their land. From then, he kept fighting for Black farmers' privileges and equal treatment as he remembered what his grandfather said, "The land don't know color. The land never mistreated me, people do," he told The Guardian.

According to the recent figures from the US Department of Agriculture, Black farmers only comprise 1.3% of total farmers in the US compared to 95% white farmers. Black farmers own only 0.52% of farmland in the country and earn less than $40,000 yearly while white farmers earn $190,000.

A big factor for such disparity is discrimination. Black farmers are often deprived of access to legal resources. Their properties were usually passed along without a will or clear title, which is the reason why 80% of land owned by black people has been lost since 1910, according to the Census Bureau.

Moreover, Black farmers are often denied loans and other support because of their race, which Boyd himself experienced. He filed complaints against the USDA for discriminatory treatment and won the first-ever discrimination lawsuit against the USDA. Other lawsuits followed, including one in 1999 that the government settled for $1 billion and more than 16,000 black farmers received $50,000 each.

However, more than 80,000 farmers who were not informed of the settlement weren't able to claim the money. It was only eight years after that when then-Senator Barack Obama sponsored to reopen the case and the Congress set aside $100 million to assess the late claims. In 2010, then-President Obama signed a bill authorizing $1.25 billion in compensation to the late claimants.

Unfortunately, a lot of Black farmers weren't aware of it before the last deadline six years ago. Some people are even taking advantage of elderly black people by telling them to mail in $100 so they could apply for the $50,000 money.

Boyd, who founded the National Black Farmers' Association in 1995 to advocate for the Black farmers, is still continuing his fight for their rights and fair treatment up to now.

"They're not getting any money. That doesn't fix anything," he said. "Farmers need operating money every year. You need credit every year. We need access to credit. We’re clearly not getting it."