Land Loss (A Hidden Tragedy)
by Tommy Ates
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) for fear
of their safety, or thinking that law enforcement probably
did not care (especially the South).
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
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 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
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
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
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
Tommy Ates loves the left because the left is always right!
He wants to help the underdog become the Top Dog.