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AP finds shrinking numbers of Black farmers in the US against a history of discrimination

Farmer John Boyd Jr., poses in front of a hay baler at his farm in Boydton, Va., May 27, 2021. “I’m owning land that many of my forefathers worked when it was scotch free. You know — slave labor, man,” says Boyd. “I’m just trying to make them proud.” Like other Black farmers, Boyd has encountered prejudice while trying to make a living on his 1,500 acres. (AP Photo / Steve Helber)

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In 1910, just two generations out of slavery, Black farmers had amassed more than 16 million acres of land and made up about 14% of farmers. The fruit of their labor fed much of America. But today, one farmer in 100 is Black, and billions of dollars of federal debt forgiveness for those farmers is on hold in the face of reverse discrimination claims by white farmers. Wichita, Kansas, correspondent Roxana Hegeman built on months of research and reporting to examine why so little of Black farming’s heritage remains.

Hegeman documented how the U.S. Department of Agriculture discriminated against farmers of color through loan rejections and foreclosures. She tracked unfolding legal developments in multiple federal courts across the country and challenged the USDA on the agency’s commitment to rooting out systemic racism and reducing barriers to services for Black farmers.

She found several farmers willing to share such stories,including Wesley Boyd Jr.,whose Virginia farm provided the setting for remarkable AP visuals by Richmond photographer Steve Helber and Raleigh,North Carolina-based multiformat journalist Allen Breed.

Breed used five cameras in his video report: He mounted a GoPro to a tractor windshield as Boyd made passes up and down a rolling 1,000-acre tract along the broad Roanoke River. Meanwhile,he ran alongside and behind the tractor with another camera. As Boyd made the circuit of his field,Breed launched a drone for sweeping aerial shots. He also used his own Sony DSLR to record an interview and deployed his iPhone as well. Meanwhile, Helber captured striking stills of Boyd working at the farm.

Hegeman folded all of the stories into an engrossing narrative that coupled the history of discrimination against farmers of color with the stories of individual farms and the men and women who struggled and often failed to overcome the obstacles placed in their way.

The package won wide display on sites ranging from the Christian Science Monitor to the Miami Herald,and it was among AP’s top stories in reader engagement.

For extensive research,compelling interviews and visuals,and all-formats collaboration to bring AP’s audience closer to the lived experience of many Black farmers today and in years past,Hegeman, Helber and Breed are AP’s Best of the Week — Second Winners.

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