Black farmers fight for their land, inspire new generation of agriculturists: Part 2

John Boyd Jr., founder of the National Black Farmers Association, has spent decades advocating for Black farmers’ land and rights. A farm in New York is training Black youth to farm.
8:04 | 06/19/21

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Transcript for Black farmers fight for their land, inspire new generation of agriculturists: Part 2
Black farmers are at the root of agriculture in the U.S., but today they make up less than 2% of the nation's farmers. ABC news correspondent Kenneth Moton talks to one man who is planting seeds of change to keep farmers of color afloat. I'm a fourth-generation farmer. It's in my blood. My grandfather, Thomas Boyd, was born in 1894. They owned their own farm. And my mother's parents were sharecroppers. Me and my dad farmed together probably for about 30 years until he retired from farming. Growing up in South Carolina, my great, great, great-grandfather, Henry Moton, was a sharecropper. Black farmers, many will point out, they helped build -- feed this country. Absolutely. I'm sitting here talking to you on a farm that my forefathers worked here as slaves. I know that there were slaves and sharecroppers that built these barns here. You can see the logs were hand-carved. Just looking at that reminds me of history, you know, where I came from and where we have to go in this country. John Boyd Jr. Grew up near this thousand-acre southern Virginia farm, where he grows soybean and wheat. And when he's not tending to cattle, he's wrangling politicians, even driving tractors and mules to Washington D.C., to lobby for black farmers and their land, as founder of the national black farmers association. The most powerful tool you can possess, only secondary to Jesus Christ, is land ownership. Stomp on the ground stomp on the ground At the turn of the 20th century, nearly 1 million black families put their blood, sweat and tears into the U.S. Soil. Today, that number has plummeted to roughly 50,000 black farmers. No simple answer behind the decline. Economics, migration, discrimination and racism all playing a role in the backlash to black land ownership. It began more than 400 years ago, when enslaved Africans were exploited for more than just their labor. They were kidnapped from their homes and brought over for their agricultural expertise. For example, they would kidnap Mende and wolof people who were expert rice farmers and bring them to the Carolinas. Our ancestral grandmothers had the courageous audacity to braid seeds into their hair. So, the okra, cowpea, egusi melon, sorghum, millet, eggplant came with them in the bowels of slave ships. Eventually freedom would come, along with the promise of land. If 40 acres and a mule had been a promise kept, that would be worth almost $7 trillion today. Instead, that promise was broken, and many former slaves became sharecroppers, renting land often from their former owners. It didn't just stop when we were freed. Where were we free to go? We didn't have any money. We didn't have any resources. So many blacks stayed on these farms like my forefathers did. That's how blacks got land in the first place. Boyd says the challenge has been hanging onto that land. And he believes the federal government has failed to adequately support farmers of color. You've had a tumultuous relationship with the United States department of agriculture. Yes. The last plantation. Whoo, that's powerful. The very agency that's supposed to be lending me a hand up was the very agency putting black farmers out of business. And Boyd telling me about his own years' long experience in Virginia dealing with local usda officials, one in particular. Being in that loan office, with that usda official. It's Wednesday, the only day he saw black farmers. Wait, they had a day for you? Yeah. We named it black Wednesday. In the '80s, they still had the word Negro on the usda application. In the '80s? Yes. Since 1995, a half trillion dollars, with a "T," have been paid out to large-scale farmers in this country in the form of just subsidies, and a little to none has went to black farmers. In 1999, the usda settled a class action lawsuit, eventually paying more than $1 billion dollars to black farmers in response to claims of discrimination. Today, the department says it's committed to building a different, more inclusive usda. It's about fairness. It's about dignity and respect. Being treated equal. Yes. And the past year was especially tough for an already ailing farming industry, as the pandemic shut down markets and restaurants, forcing some farmers to destroy their surplus crop. In March, president Biden signed the nearly $2 trillion American rescue plan act, just $5 billion for farmers of color. I'm very proud of farmer of color debt relief act. Georgia senator Raphael Warnock co-sponsored the legislation to help black farmers. The covid-19 pandemic both illuminated and exacerbated longstanding health disparities and economic disparities. This is the man, Lester bonner! How you doing? Hi, sir. Black farmers and other farmers of color had been discriminated against for generations. How many acres we got here? It's 136 acres left. My great grandfather bought it in 1893. Lester bonner told me he needs $20,000 to save his family farm, a crisis the covid relief bill would help solve. I thought we been got it by now, so I could get a crop in the ground this year. So now you're facing foreclosure? It's been a hell of a challenge on that. They tried to wipe us out, but the black farmer's still contributing. Unfortunately Mr. Bonner may never get the help he needs. In June, a federal judge froze the relief money for black farmers, saying it unconstitutionally uses race as a factor in giving loans. At places like soul fire farm, their mission is to keep black farmers on the land. One of the reasons we're so passionate about training the rising generation of farmers is that the average age of a black farmer is over 60 years old. These plants come back year after year all by themselves. Most of them are native or very well adapted to the region. We have between 1 and 2,000 folks who come through for these courses every single year at the farm to learn everything from taking care of the soil to planting a seed. It's called bee balm, and it's used to treat colds and flus and help with the respiratory system. It's so inspiring when people come to the farm. The access to open space and to a sense of purpose. Because black folks' relationship to land isn't just enslavement. Many of the practices in organic farming, raised beds, compost, cover cropping, come out of an afro-indigenous tradition. I'm proud and excited to see a new interest in black farmers and land ownership and healthy food. That's my dream. A new generation of farmers.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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