There Were Almost 1 Million Black Farmers In 1920. Why Have They Disappeared?

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
Black Farmers
Photo by Anaya Katlego on Unsplash

The hit OWN TV show “Queen Sugar” tells the story of the Bordelons, three Black siblings fighting to save their late father’s farm. The land, which has been passed down through generations, is the only Black-owned plot in a sea of white families – one in particular that is doing all they can to take it from them.

Though the beloved Bordelons are fictional, the intriguing basis of their story line is based in fact. John Boyd Jr. is a real-life testament to this. A fourth-generation farmer, Boyd’s grandfather was the son of a slave that slept with the deed to his farm every night to prevent it from being stolen. Boyd remains in the family business, but Black farmers like him have increasingly become anomalies.

In 1920, there were nearly a million Black farmers, according to an article highlighting Boyd in The Guardian. Today that number has shrank to 45,508, only 1.3 percent of the nearly 3.4 million American farmers, according to a 2017 agriculture census.

The decline is likely due to a variety of factors like Black farmers falling victim to systemic racism in funding, being sold faulty seeds and being forced off their land.

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The Black farmers who have been able to retain their land make an estimated $40,000 annually compared to the $190,000 annual income of white farmers, The Guardian reported.

Boyd refuses to roll over and be quiet about it. To combat the inequality, he founded the National Black Farmers Association. His work was instrumental in getting thousands of Black farmers $50,000 based on discrimination claims in the class-action lawsuit Pigford v. Glickman, The Grist reported.

He continues to fight, but acknowledges it is an uphill battle. To get a fair price for his soybeans, Boyd said he still has to ask his wife’s white stepfather to sell them.

“I lose money if I sell them myself … In 2019, that shouldn’t be happening. I shouldn’t be losing money because I’m black,” Boyd said.