HOLDENVILLE, Okla. (KFOR) – In our United Voice series, we’re shining a spotlight on the plight of Black farmers in Oklahoma.

Once a thriving industry, today there are fewer than two thousand Black farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers across the state, and even fewer make a profit.

George Roberts said he and his family might represent the last, Black-owned farm in Holdenville.

“[We] fit into the 1 percent that’s left in the U.S.,” he said of the Circle ‘R’ Ranch.

“We’re the fly in the buttermilk [and] it’s challenging, trying to be a Black farmer … I would say the United States, but especially Oklahoma.”

His family has their original forty acres they were granted as a freed family after slavery.

Since acquiring the land in 1912, they’ve also added hundreds of other acres to their fold, but it’s always been hard to make a profit.

“Financing is the key to agriculture, and we’ve tried to do different options with the government and different agencies … it’s tough[and] it’s been very difficult as a Black farmer trying to sustain and keep,” said Roberts.

Roberts said his family has often for vital expenses paid out of pocket over the years, with limited help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“A lot of people say it’s easy and you get what you want…you don’t,” he added, while saying it’s been difficult to apply for loans and other financial help.

“I applied for different loans and stuff to try to get things done on the properties, but [the USDA] gives you just enough to say they helped you, but they’re really not helping me, just putting a Band-Aid over what I really need – stitches,” he added.

Roberts said his family participated in a landmark, class-action lawsuit between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Black farmers in the late 1990’s.

In Pigford v. Glickman, the plaintiffs claimed the agency discriminated againstv thousands of Black farmers on the basis of race and failed to investigate the claims over decades.

A little more than a billion dollars from a settlement for debt relief, cash and tax payments became available, but Roberts and the ranch missed out on a share because of a technicality.

The range for the complaints was from 1983 to 1997, and his claim was from before 1983.

“I was supposed to get debt relief and I didn’t get it,” he said, explaining that his claim missed the maximum cut-off by a year.

“You’re fighting a battle all the time, trying to get your land to look the way land should look… for you not to get the type of help that you think you should be getting … it hurts.”

“I’m a godly person. I’m going to leave it up to the man upstairs to make it right.”

Roberts said his family plans to apply for a new financial assistance program through the USDA – also earmarked for underrepresented groups who may have been discriminated against – for help.

But in the meantime, he and his family will continue to work the farm.  

“Everything else is gone but the land is still here,” he said.

“It’s up to me and my generations to keep it.”