Local News

Plowing and politics: Man wants justice for black farmers

Posted July 3, 2009 11:23 a.m. EDT
Updated July 3, 2009 6:35 p.m. EDT

— From the steps of Capitol Hill to the farm fields of rural America, a Mecklenburg County, Va., man has spent years fighting a civil rights battle.

John Boyd is president of the National Black Farmers Association. His goal is for the federal government to repay thousands of black farmers who say they were unfairly denied loans because of their race.

Boyd’s life is consumed with plowing and politics. Farmers from across the country constantly call him. He recently had 18 voice messages.

“I’ve seen the faces, and these are persons who can’t express themselves,” he said.

Boyd is the voice of those farmers. He spends half his time in Washington fighting for 80,000 black farmers who sued the government and claimed they were denied loans because of their race.

“These are 80,000 persons’ lives that have been waiting over a decade,” he said.

“It keeps the fire burning in me for justice for a group of people that have been totally overlooked and mistreated,” Boyd said.

His time spent in Washington has eaten away at the time he can devote to his own farm, an occupational hazard he doesn’t seem to mind.

“Somebody got to fight the fight, and somebody got to stand up for justice. That’s what this is all about,” he said.

Boyd was part of the first discrimination lawsuit involving black farmers. In that case, the government paid 14,000 farmers. The new lawsuit covers farmers who weren't part of the original case.

The Obama administration has set aside $1.25 billion to pay back the farmers.

"This is an issue I worked on in the Senate, and I’m pleased that we are now able to close this chapter in the agency’s history and move on," said President Barack Obama. “My hope is that the farmers and their families who were denied access to USDA loans and programs will be made whole and will have the chance to rebuild their lives and their businesses.”

Boyd says that's not nearly enough. The farmers are asking for $2.5 billion.