Person of the Week: John Boyd

When John Boyd left his home in Baskerville, Va., on a wagon pulled by his mule "40 Acres" and embarked on a 280-mile journey to Washington, D.C., he was determined to make a difference.

It may have taken him 16 days, but Boyd got his message out and gave Congress a piece of his mind.

As the president of the National Black Farmers Association, Boyd represented black farmers seeking legislation to equalize federal farming subsidies. Black farmers, he said, do not get the same loans and subsidies as whites farmers do.

"I don't understand it, for the life of me, that the good people on Capitol Hill can put laws in place to protect the bald eagle, the rockfish," said Boyd. "And I don't get that kind of reception to keep in place the oldest occupation in history for black people in the country, which is farming."

Boyd's great-grandfather was a slave who was set free only after the Civil War and became a farmer.

"My [great]grandfather was able to obtain a farm on the brink of slavery where he worked for a white farm family, the Boyd family," whose name Boyd still carries today. "I feel like we earned the right to live in this country," he said. "We earned the right to farm in this country and we earned the right to participate in these federal programs.

The Department of Agriculture agreed with Boyd when it settled the largest class action civil rights suit in U.S. history in 1999, when the department found that black farmers had to wait three times longer for loans and subsidies. Black farmers were losing their land because they could not get the loans.

"There [are] thousands of black farmers waiting diligently and in good faith that they are going to get their check," said Boyd. But thousands of farmers are not getting the help they expected from the settlement.

Boyd aims to fix that, if he can.

‘We All Came From the Farm’

Family farming is hard, no matter who you are. At the turn of the century there were more than 1 million black farm families. Today there are fewer than 18,000, according to the Department of Agriculture.

"We all came from the farm," said Boyd. "We are only one or two generations from the farm, whether we wanted to be from the farm or not. Most black Americans in this country came from the farm."

Boyd was born in New York City, but he spent summers on his grandparents' farm in Virginia, which he loved. Today, he has a farm of his own where he raises chickens and cows and grows soybeans and wheat.

He almost lost the family farm some years ago. Had it happened, he said, he "would have been less than a man." If his grandfather was able to stay and raise 12 children, and Boyd only has one child, he said, "I think it would have broke me as far as spirit and my manhood." Fellow farmers understand that perfectly.

Today he knows that one man can make a difference. People will listen, but you do have to make the effort.

"There's a lot of work that needs to be done on this issue," said Boyd. "If it takes me riding this mule and wagon 280 miles to Washington, D.C., I think I would do it again if it would help me save the black farmer."

And so John Boyd is World News Tonight's Person of the Week.

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