This episode originally was broadcast July 1, 2017.
Picture an American farmer. Chances are, the farmer you’re imagining is white – more than 9 out of 10 American farmers today are. But historically, African Americans played a huge role in agriculture. The nation’s economy was built largely on black farm labor: in bondage for hundreds of years, followed by a century of sharecropping and tenant farming.
In the early 1900s, African American families owned one-seventh of the nation’s farmland, 15 million acres. A hundred years later, black farmers own only one-quarter of the land they once held and now make up less than 1 percent of American farm families.
The federal government has admitted it was part of the problem. In 1997, a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture said discrimination by the agency was a factor in the decline of black farms. A landmark class-action lawsuit on behalf of black farmers, Pigford v. Glickman, was settled in 1999, and the government paid out more than $2 billion as a result. But advocates for black farmers say problems persist.
On this episode of Reveal, reporter John Biewen of “Scene on Radio” tells the story of a black farmer who says the USDA treated him unfairly because of his race.