“This is the most significant piece of legislation with respect to the arc of Black land ownership in this country,” Tracy Lloyd McCurty told the Post. McCurty is executive director of the Black Belt Justice Center, which provides legal representation to Black farmers.
Oppression of America’s Black farmers runs long and deep, with them losing more than 12 million acres of land over the past century, much of it since the 1950s. The U.S. government has been responsible for fueling most of that land loss through policies that boosted the buying power of white farmers while denying farmers of color access to credit and loans that are essential to helping people grow their business. Today, just 45,000 of the nation’s 3.4 million farmers are Black. A century ago, the country was home to nearly a million Black farmers. The latest farm census also found that the average farm run by an African American is roughly a quarter of the size of the national average for farms—about 100 acres versus some 440 acres.
The latest example of federal systemic discrimination came when Donald Trump tried to make up for the effects of his China trade war by funneling $28 billion to farm country—almost all of which went to white farmers.
Following Senate passage of the relief package, Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement acknowledging the long history of unfair treatment Black farmers have endured. “For generations, socially disadvantaged farmers have struggled to fully succeed due to systemic discrimination and a cycle of debt,” Vilsack said. “On top of the economic pain caused by the pandemic, farmers from socially disadvantaged communities are dealing with a disproportionate share of COVID-19 infection rates, hospitalizations, death and economic hurt.”
President Biden’s nearly two trillion rescue plan was chock full of initiatives that will significantly reduce poverty and expand affordable access to life-saving healthcare coverage. But for Black farmers, it could represent an historic effort by the federal government to finally help them succeed where it has doomed them in the past.
“I’ve been trying to get this relief for 30 years,” John Boyd Jr., a fourth-generation Black farmer in Virginia, told the Post. Boyd, who is also president of the National Black Farmers Association, added, “Now we have to make sure Secretary Vilsack defines it in the same way it was intended, with outreach and technical assistance for Black farmers included. We as a group are going to have to get reintroduced to the USDA.”