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Sowing Seeds of Victory

“I didn’t have any money, or a whole lot of relationships,” Boyd said of his lobbying start.

That didn’t dissuade him.

Beyond meeting with lawmakers’ staffs, Boyd also began a series of near-monthly protests where farmers would come to Washington.

But despite coming to Washington twice a week starting in 2000 — and for a while bunking on a friend’s couch for easier access to the Hill — he couldn’t get the House or Senate Agriculture committees to hold a hearing.

He wasn’t above using gimmicks, including naming two mules, which he would bring to protests, “Struggle” and “40 Acres,” symbolizing the plight of the black farmer and the 40 acres that was promised to freed slaves after the Civil War.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) held three Judiciary subcommittee hearings and introduced legislation in 2006; Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) put in a bill this Congress.

“It was a long, ugly process,” Boyd said of trying to get Congress to take notice of black farmers. “It’s difficult even getting a bill introduced in the House.”

In 2004, the Environmental Working Group and the black farmers association jointly put out a report, “Obstruction of Justice.” The report culled numbers put out by the Agriculture Department and showed the disparity in payments, according to Schubert. The numbers helped lawmakers understand how stark the contrasts were, Boyd said.

Yet the legislation languished without a sponsor in the Senate. While many lawmakers were supportive, Boyd couldn’t get advocates to try to whip the bill. He also struggled to get civil rights groups, like the NAACP, to take notice of the issue.

In a Republican-controlled Congress Boyd understood the importance of having a GOP Senator co-sponsor the bill.

While Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was supportive of the black farmers efforts, he wanted other co-sponsors before introducing a bill, Boyd said.

Boyd found an unlikely ally in then-Sen. George Allen (R-Va.). Allen had been supportive of black farmers when he was governor, but his unsuccessful 2006 re-election campaign was dogged by controversy after he used the racially charged term “macaca” to refer to an Indian-American at a campaign rally.

Boyd sought out Allen and suggested that if he were to sponsor a bill, Boyd would help him with black supporters in Virginia.

But it was the change in Congressional power that ultimately helped Boyd sway lawmakers from the Congressional Black Caucus, among others, to take on the issue.

“It was a very lonely battle because we didn’t have a lobbying firm,” Boyd said.

And he isn’t through.

Now Boyd has set his sights on making sure that nonbiotech seed is available for farmers and that the practice of horse slaughtering is stopped. And, of course, he will continue to fight for equality for black farmers.

“I want us to be a part of American agriculture,” Boyd said. “We want to get to the point as an organization where we have a full-time lobbyist. A lot of people don’t understand if you don’t have visibility you don’t have a seat at the table.”

Correction: July 7, 2008

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