Black Land Loss (A Hidden Tragedy)

root - Posted on 31 December 1969

by Tommy Ates (Left is Right)

Saying goodbye to the old family farm is always sad; but losing it through
coercion or threat of violence is simply criminal.
This situation, as well as various others, is what has happened to many
black and poor farmers over the past 30 years. According to an Associated
Press study, the amount of black-owned land in rural areas has dropped
sharply over the past 30 years, in parallel with the rise of
African-Americans in urban areas, causing white flight. Much worse, many
of the land takings have gone unreported with blacks simply not telling
the authorities (especially rural areas) in fear for their safety or
thinking that law enforcement probably did not care (especially the

So it should not be to anyone's surprise that mostly only black lawmakers
(Rep. John Conyers, et al.) have addressed in the problem in public forums
or panels; however, there are no clear answers, simply sobering
statistics. Here are three simple facts that explain the situation
clearly, according to the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association:

1) between 1920 and 1992, the number of black farmers declined 98 percent,

2) in the 1980s, there were less than 200 black farmers in the United
States under 25, and 3) today's African-American farmer accounts for less
than one percent of American agribusiness.

Now, if there is any irony of the plight of black farmers, their struggle
to survive is not unlike the difficulty the black underclass has escaping
poverty, too little financial assistance from the government and not
enough time to prove themselves financially solvent in the marketplace
(aka corporate America).

And sadly, needless to say, the scourge of racism has stroked the flames
of destruction. Many farmers had their land taken by more wealthy
landowners forcibly or by trickery, often with the assistance of the
landed gentry, as well as by the Ku Klux Klan, especially in the 1920s and
1930s. And if you think that in the modern era that land grabbing doesn't
occur, look at the Myrtle Beach area in South Carolina, where black
landowners have been decimated by ignorance and misinformation about the
value of their lands. While the wealthy snowbirds enjoy the Myrtle
Riviera, black and poor families moved from their farmhouse by the sea to
their apartment or home for the elderly. The class differential between
the blacks in the region is nominal before and after the land appraisal
boom of the 1980s and 90s.

Even with the April 1999 Consent Decree with United States Department of
Agriculture and black farmers, claimants are still having a hard time
getting the settlements funds owed to them. The vast USDA bureaucracy,
including the long dreaded Farm Service Agency (FSA), has long been
labeled a "good ol' boys" network even by the mainstream media, with
employees still working there whom some black plaintiffs claimed
discriminated against them, this in addition to relatively low minority
employment levels within the agency, particularly in management positions.
For many minority farmers, as long as corporate farmers can still peddle
influence in Washington and on the local level, farming subsidies will
continue to go to multinational corporations and farmers, instead of the
average black farmer who farms on less than 50 acres - often not enough to
make a significant profit.

To play Devil's Advocate, yes, it is true that corporate farming and
wealthy landowners have more resources in hand to ensure better crop
yields and more reliable farm employment. But, does that mean "in the name
of corporate progress" that the African-American farmer should be rendered
extinct? No, America was built by and for the people and any American
farmer (regardless of race or class) deserves to have a future without
having the urban lifestyle, be the only option for employment.
Listen, people: We have enough wage slaves; it's time for
self-sufficiency. Already, we are seeing the results of the big farms run
amok in a huge increase of drug trafficking to the blighted rural regions,
as farming simply cannot pay the bills. In some areas of the rural South,
in terms of murders and robberies, we are seeing the ghetto visiting
Grandma's house out in the country, and even the shotgun is obsolete.
For the surviving farmers (and there are few), we can help look after our
rural relations by asking and lobbying our congressional representatives
on the state and national level to ask that the USDA accurately process
and help needy black farmers be aware of some of the farm benefits that
are available to them.

For those of you who may have forgotten all about rural life, there are
many cultural traits that give us our common legacies. The land of our
forefathers is an invaluable treasure, especially since it was earned even
before it was bought.

In light of Black History month, the problem of black land loss brings new
meaning to the question of what constitutes the "blood, sweat, and tears,"
instead of water, add theft.

Needless to say, this issue makes me eager to celebrate my black history.


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