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Person of the Week: John Boyd

On a Mule-Pulled Wagon, Boyd Protests Bias Against Black Farmers

When John Boyd left his home in Baskerville, Va., on a wagon pulled by his mule "40 Acres" and embarked on a 280-mile journey to Washington, D.C., he was determined to make a difference.

It may have taken him 16 days, but Boyd got his message out and gave Congress a piece of his mind.

As the president of the National Black Farmers Association, Boyd represented black farmers seeking legislation to equalize federal farming subsidies. Black farmers, he said, do not get the same loans and subsidies as whites farmers do.

"I don't understand it, for the life of me, that the good people on Capitol Hill can put laws in place to protect the bald eagle, the rockfish," said Boyd. "And I don't get that kind of reception to keep in place the oldest occupation in history for black people in the country, which is farming."

Boyd's great-grandfather was a slave who was set free only after the Civil War and became a farmer.

"My [great]grandfather was able to obtain a farm on the brink of slavery where he worked for a white farm family, the Boyd family," whose name Boyd still carries today. "I feel like we earned the right to live in this country," he said. "We earned the right to farm in this country and we earned the right to participate in these federal programs.

The Department of Agriculture agreed with Boyd when it settled the largest class action civil rights suit in U.S. history in 1999, when the department found that black farmers had to wait three times longer for loans and subsidies. Black farmers were losing their land because they could not get the loans.

"There [are] thousands of black farmers waiting diligently and in good faith that they are going to get their check," said Boyd. But thousands of farmers are not getting the help they expected from the settlement.

Boyd aims to fix that, if he can.

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