After the Civil War, black people had the largest amount of farmland they would ever own in the United States, but that land has been stripped through discrimination policies and theft decade after decade, resulting in hundreds of billions of dollars in economic loss in the twentieth century, according to a new report.
According to a study released on May 5, by 1910, 425,000 Black households in the South owned approximately 20 million acres of farmland. They’ve lost 14 million acres since then, mostly due to the US Department of Agriculture.
According to experts, the land lost and the potential income the land could have produced for Black farmers between 1920 and 1997 totaled $326 billion.
The authors of The New Republic report say that the study does not take into consideration the investments that families may have made in their children’s education. According to the research, black farmers were robbed of their rights, dignity, aspirations, and other personal freedoms.
Still, according to John Boyd Jr., president and founder of the National Black Farmers Association, only those who have suffered the loss can properly understand how much it means to them.
“Land loss has no monetary value,” Boyd stated. “People always come to my farms and try to tell me how much they’re worth, but I know what they’re worth to me.”
“It’s really difficult to put a value on land loss and generational wealth because that’s what it is,” he continued. That is exactly what happened to us. We’ve lost almost all of our property.”
According to the report, the land loss has a significant impact on the nation’s wealth disparity between black and white people. According to research by the Center for American Progress, the average Black family in 2019 had 14.5 percent of the wealth or $838,220 less than the average white household.
The authors predict that if the approximately $300 billion from the land loss research were allocated, the median household in all Black homes would nearly quadruple, from $21,000 to $37,000.
Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Jaime Whitten of Mississippi was named in the report by a panel of economics and legal experts as the individual behind discriminatory legislation that led to the expropriation of Black farmland owners.
Whitten was nicknamed the “Permanent Secretary of Agriculture” since he chaired the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture for 53 years.
According to the investigation, Whitten used his power to regulate USDA staffing. He slashed money for projects that aided Black people in the South, such as studies on rural economic and racial inequities and Black sharecroppers, as well as food programs and tractor driving lessons for Black laborers.
The researchers also refer to the New Deal policies of the 1930s, which subsidized white, industrialized farmers while putting Black farms out of business.
The plan’s supporters blasted President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Farm Security Administration, which was formed to aid small farmers. They claimed that government subsidies for large farmers improved “public welfare,” whereas FSA programs rendered small farmers reliant on the government.
Discriminatory lending policies made it more difficult for Black farms to get loans and keep their land. Agriculture limitations imposed by the USDA on Black farmers resulted in the closure of certain farms.
USDA agents would sometimes put off paying out loans after farmers put up land as collateral. As a result, Black farmers have given the federal agency the moniker “the Last Plantation.”
Boyd, a fourth-generation Virginia farmer, had to file for bankruptcy in the 1980s after being rejected for a federal loan. He lost a farm at a USDA auction in the late 1990s.
Boyd refused to hand over his 44-acre property to a larger farm, and an agent informed him he’d “simply have to sell him out.” He was on the verge of losing another farm, but Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman ordered a moratorium on government farm foreclosures when he and other Black farmers complained.
Over the years, Black farmers have teamed together to resist injustice and safeguard Black farms. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, they began organizing cooperatives to pool cash to save farms.
They agreed to a $2.3 billion class-action settlement in a discrimination case in 1999, but many contended that the settlement only scratched the surface of the problem. Furthermore, some farmers complained that receiving a portion of the award was difficult.
The America Rescue Plan, proposed by Vice President Joe Biden, set aside $5 billion in debt relief for “socially disadvantaged” farmers. Multiple lawsuits have been filed, halting payments for the time being.
The report’s authors expect that it will be the first step toward the federal government making Black farmers whole.
The estimate, according to Duke economist William Darity Jr., should be included in a larger national reparations program for African-Americans. The federal government owes descendants of enslaved African-Americans $14 trillion, according to Darity.
“What happened to the Black farmers is part of a larger pattern of atrocities against Black Americans, many of which involve land dispossession,” Darity explained.
“The solution is for all the communities of Black people who have been victimized by America’s history of racism to come together and demand a national program of reparations, rather than trying to address this piece by piece or atrocity by atrocity.”
Boyd expressed his hope that the findings will inspire Black Americans to support farmers. He stated that black farmers require community support to continue battling prejudice and land eviction.
Boyd also thinks that it would encourage more Black people to invest in farms and land, which is America’s most valuable asset.
“Don’t let that deter us from owning land.” “At all costs, hold on to the land,” Boyd added. “Don’t let it get away from you since it’ll be difficult to get it back.” It’s not like having a car or having a job. “At all costs, keep the land.”