A Quest to Be Heard

John Boyd fights for the rights of black farmers in the farm fields of American and the hallways of Capitol Hill.
By Krissah Thompson Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 21, 2009

Once again, John Boyd was waiting.

He was in the Rayburn building, on the second floor, sitting outside the closed office of an important House Judiciary Committee staffer. It was 15 minutes after the meeting should have started, but the man Boyd had raced over to see was not there.

In a few minutes, Boyd was expected to meet a congressman on the other side of the building.

He sighed.

He had driven 3 1/2 hours to get here from his farm near South Hill, Va. The week before, he had made the drive twice. The week before that was also twice, and the week before that, as well.

In fact, he had been making the drive for 8 1/2 years -- all to meet more politicians than he can count and to wait for more hours than he cares to remember.

What kind of man does this? Drives and drives? Week after week? Year after year? Making it his life's work?

It is this man, whose cellphone was now ringing.

"I'll have to fix it in the morning," he said after listening for a moment. He hung up. His tractor had broken down. The hay that needed to be cut wasn't going to get cut. "Lost another day," he said, getting up and moving toward his next appointment.

He walked fast, knowing that time is against him. The old black farmers whose case he comes to Washington to discuss were getting older, dying off, and they still had not been repaid for the years of discrimination to which the government had subjected them. A few weeks before, when President Obama had released his proposed budget, he had included $1.25 billion for the 70,000 farmers with outstanding claims -- an amount that as far as Boyd was concerned was $1.25 billion short.

He paused at the entrance to the congressman's office, smoothed a wrinkle out of his jacket and cleared his throat.

"John Boyd," he said, walking in.

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