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Black History Spotlight | John Boyd Jr.

Black History Spotlight | John Boyd Jr.

John Boyd Jr. is a Baskerville, Virginia farmer, civil rights activist, and the founder of the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA). He owns and operates a 300-acre farm where he grows soybean, corn, and wheat and currently raises a hundred head of beef cattle.

John Boyd Jr.

John Boyd Jr.
Source: Regina H. Boone/ Richmond Free Press

I think it might be obvious that I’ve picked Mr. Boyd because he is a farmer and I’ve been known to dabble in farming a bit here in Chicago. The plight of Black farmers in this nation is huge and Mr. Boyd’s has worked tirelessly long before I decided to throw my hat in the agricultural ring.

From working closely with Governors and Presidents to make sure that Black farmers all over the country have the same resources and rights as their white counterparts. It’s been exhausting work, and he doesn’t look like he’s stopping anytime soon.

John Boyd Jr. - Black Farmer and Founder of the National Black Farmers Association

Boyd founded the National Black Farmers Association in 1995 and has been a national voice on the issue of farm subsidies, arguing that black farmers are left out of the massive system of subsidies provided by the government. One of these days you may see me on Twitter talking about how huge of an issue this is to already marginalized people, and how the lack of acknowledgment by the very people benefitting from it is infuriating. But I digress. We’re talking happy things here.

I’m grateful that through the work that Boyd has done, I feel like I can work one more day doing the work that we do with We Sow We Grow. It’s a long road ahead, but seeing real-life Black farmers doing hard work to make sure that we ALL have equity in agriculture is refreshing.

From an interview with NPR, Boyd had this to say about making sure that Black people farm:

I think it’s a part of, a great part of history. I don’t care how many generations you go back, you’re only one or two generations away from somebody’s farm. We all came from the farm. That’s why we were brought to this country as black people. We were brought to work the land and clean up the South for scotch-free as slaves.

That’s why it has a negative impact. And it’s because of the bad stigma that we’ve had because of sharecropping, because of slavery. Our people — black people — die from everything. Heart attack, stroke, obesity. And it’s from the foods that we’re eating.

If we had more black people growing healthy foods — not as a megafarmer, but farming right in their backyard. Growing string beans, onions, all of the vegetables. If you were growing these things and eating more healthy foods, we wouldn’t have some of the illnesses that plague us.

I think if we got reconnected with the farm, everything would be better. I would like to see our people go back to land ownership — get back to communities where we came from and really start doing some positive things.

NPR: All Things Considered

When you think of farmers in the United States, are you thinking of people who look like me or John Boyd, or is your default automatically an old weathered white man? Not only does it erase Black people from the rich history we have here in the United States surrounding farming, but it also erases women too. There’s space for more than one type of farmer, and the work that Boyd is doing with the National Black Farmers Association is making sure that we’re firmly in place to secure our spot.

If you’re interested in seeing more of John Boyd’s work, check out the National Black Farmer’s Association site where you can check out interviews and donate to the work that he and Association members are doing to move farming forward.

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