by Summer Sewell in Baskerville, Virginia, and Shreveport, Louisiana
John Boyd Jr’s grandfather Thomas, the son of a slave, slept with the deed to his farm under his mattress. He worried constantly that his land would be taken from him.
Twenty miles away and three generations later, Boyd lives on his own 210-acre farm, in a big white colonial house with rows of soybeans that go almost up to the front door, like other people have grass. One hundred cattle, a cluster of guinea hogs, three goats and a small herding dog named Fatso, whom Boyd calls his best friend, live there.
He feels more secure on his plot of land than Thomas did. But Boyd is an aberration.
The number of black farmers in America peaked in 1920, when there were 949,889. Today, of the country’s 3.4 million total farmers, only 1.3%, or 45,508, are black, according to new figures from the US Department of Agriculture released this month. They own a mere 0.52% of America’s farmland. By comparison, 95% of US farmers are white.