Black Farmers Fight To Keep Land

When he's not tending his chickens in Mecklenburg, Va., or checking on his crops, John Boyd is fighting one of the most powerful bureaucracies in the nation - the U.S. Department of Agriculture - over one of the most valuable entities in our country: farmland.

He said the government was about to foreclose the land.

"No question, big pasteboard in the yard, auction directions from the highway," Boyd told CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston.

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Boyd nearly lost his 200-acre farm when he fell behind on a $150,000 loan. The county committee, the USDA's local representative, turned down his repeated efforts to restructure the debt. Boyd thinks the government's crackdown was race-related.

"I think basically, I was black and somebody on the county committee wanted my farm."

Government subsidies handed out by the county committees are the lifeblood of American farmers of all races. Boyd is now part of a class action lawsuit charging the USDA with systematically rejecting black farmers applications for loans and other programs.
The Department of Agriculture admits that many of the grievances are true. The USDA's own internal investigation reveals complaints were ignored. For years, the USDA had no effective civil rights program.

Last week in Atlanta, black farmers took center stage at the NAACP's annual convention and put Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman in the hot seat.

"Let me be the first to agree, we have not done enough," Glickman said. "We need to pay reparations for documented cases of past discrimination.

Linwood Brown is one of those documented cases. He accused the USDA of discrimination and won.

"The government admitted that they had mistreated me and promised to make me whole since December the 12th and then I never heard from them," said Brown.

He was awarded a six-figure settlement and his land. But he never got his money or his farm.

USDA officials say a statute of limitation ruling by the Justice Department prevents the government from paying black farmers with proven cases of racial discrimination.

"It takes the same amount of lime, the same amount of fertilizer, and the same amount of seed for my farm than it does for the white man's farm across the road," said Boyd.

As he looks at his great-great grandfather's slave cabin, Boyd says he's trying to protect much more than land.

"My grandfather was able to raise 12 kids off the farm and I only have one, and I was the only who almost lost our heritage," Boyd said.

Boyd has managed to hang onto his farm, but he is the exception. Fewer than 1 percent of the nation's farmers are black, down from 14 percent 70 years ago. If the current trend continues, in the new millennium, African Americn farmers will be part of history.