The Plight of Black Ranchers

The Plight of Black Ranchers


The landscape for Black business owners in this country is decidedly bleak, and this is especially true for those who actually work the land. Less than 1.5 percent of farmers in America are Black, and that number includes all farmers, not just ranchers (who primarily raise beef cattle and other livestock). When that figure gets sliced down into the number of Black-owned ranches that specialize in beef cattle, it gets exceeding low, coming in at just under 17,000. To put that in perspective, we are a nation of 333 million people.


It wasn’t always this way. There used to be a day, a time, when Blacks owned nearly 15 percent of the farms across the country. But it has been a hundred years since that was the case, and now the sight of a Black rancher is, sadly, exceedingly rare. Because of underhanded legal loopholes dating as far back as 1920 Blacks have been divested of 13 million acres of land. But a core group of Black rancher activists have been fighting back and chief among them is John Boyd, Jr., a pioneering leader in civil rights for Black farmers. The efforts by Boyd and others who fight with him may have been what led to the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color, passed in spring of this year as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. It provides $5 billion to go toward debt, land expansion and the pursuit of other opportunities related to enhancing farming and ranching businesses.


“With [this] action, we are one more important step closer to bringing emergency debt relief to Black, Native American and other Farmers of Color in this country,” said Boyd in a press release issued about the relief act.


Boyd is a Brooklyn-born Virginia farmer who raises beans, grains and cattle. He began his advocacy in the 1980s, when he applied for and was denied a USDA loan. Such loans are commonly given to farmers to keep them afloat, but Boyd saw the process was discriminatory when he watched his application get tossed into a trashcan by a USDA ofcial during the interview. It was this, and a series of other discriminatory actions that Boyd says was preventing him from keeping his farm operational, which forced him into bankruptcy.


Undeterred, Boyd filed a discrimination complaint against the USDA, at which point he uncovered a trove of unresolved racial discrimination cases dating back decades. In the mid-90s, he formed the National Black Farmers Association. Since then he has marched on Washington, met with presidents and testified before Congress multiple times.


Raise American tips its hat to Boyd, for his tireless efforts to improve the lives of Black farmers.