Since the founding of the United States, the government has helped keep land in white hands. In the decades following the end of slavery, black Americans amassed a considerable amount of farmland. According to the Land Loss and Reparations Project, they owned around 20 million acres of land in 1910. In 1920 about 14 percent of the country’s farmers were black. But that was the high point.
“During and after the New Deal [people] was excited about driving blacks from the country. And that’s exactly what they set out to do, ”historian Pete Daniel, author of Expropriation: Discrimination against African American farmers in the age of civil rights, told reporter Bryce Stucki, an analyst with the Land Loss and Reparations Project. As Daniel explained, “The land loss is related to this whole apparatus that benefits white people.”
Over the next century will be government policy, and systemic racism rampant discrimination within the Department of Agriculture, most of the blacks forced farmers out of trade. Since then, the proportion of black farmers dropped to just 1.4 percent. The same trend applies to other farmers of color, whose numbers have been reduced over time due to racial lending practices and a history of laws created in a deliberate effort to deprive them of their property. After most current USDA data, in 2017, only 2.3 percent of the 3.4 million farmers in the United States identified themselves as Native American or Alaskan and less than 1 percent identified as Asian Americans.
Change can finally be underway. In recent years, indigenous communities have the Landback movement campaign for the return of the land to the administration of the indigenous people. And some recent political efforts show a growing awareness of the injustices that plague black and brown farmers. the Law of Justice for Black Peasants Introduced by Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren, would mandate a new oversight to allay and dispel racism within the USDA Spend $ 8 billion to buy farmland annually and give it to black farmers. President Biden added $ 5 million Help for socially disadvantaged farmers in the most recent COVID aid law. Even if the funds can bring the help needed, they will never be enough to explain centuries of willful land theft.
Here are some key moments in American history when farmers of color were driven from the land.
1783: The United States, newly won in the War of Independence, begins pushing for ownership and access to indigenous land, eventually confiscating 1.5 billion acres in the next century.
1830: The Indian Removal Act allows the government to conquer the land by indigenous people in the east and south in exchange for a “zone of colonization” west of the Mississippi. The trail of tears will soon follow.
1848: The lower Rio Grande Valley becomes part of the United States. Anglos begin to crouch on the land of the Mexican subsistence ranchers who eventually lose their property. In the book Pesos and dollars, Alicia Marion Dewey notes: “The ranchos of the Hidalgo County were practically all gone by 1920.”
1862: Congress passes the first Homestead Act, allowing citizens to claim 160 acres for a small fee. Homesteaders expropriate Indians from 246 million acres in the west. Almost a quarter of Americans today are related to people who acquired land through these laws.
1865: Maj. Gen. Sherman issues Special Field Orders No. 15 and supplies thousands of black Americans 40 hectares of arable land. As part of a series of declarations of war intended to aid recently or soon to be freed slaves, orders were terminated following Lincoln’s assassination.
1871: Congress passes the second Indian Funds Actwhich declares that “no Native American nation or tribe shall be recognized or recognized as an independent nation, tribe or power within the territory of the United States,” thereby ending treaties and paving the way for ever more open land seizures.
1882: After the collapse of the gold rush economy depresses wages in the West, public sentiment turns by more than 150,000 Chinese immigrants who had worked on railways and farms. Denis Kearney, Chairman of the California Labor Party, explained that the “Chinese have to go”. Immigration is no longer allowed and Chinese immigrants are largely driven into urban enclaves. Japanese farmers – many were recently laid off from employment contracts following the annexation of Hawaii in 1898 – are soon beginning to take their place in California’s fields.
1887: The Dawes Act divides reservations into individual parcels that are often unusable and cuts off the total area of Native American people by more than 60 percent.
1901: President Theodore Roosevelt establishes 150 national forests, depriving indigenous and Latin American communities of access to traditional farming and hunting areas. For example, agropastoral communities in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico will be cut off from their farms and feeding grounds when the land becomes Carson National Forest.
1913: With 100,000 acres of California farmland run by Japanese Americans, competitive white farmers and “Yellow Peril” propaganda are driving the passage of the state foreign land law that prohibits the purchase and long-term leasing of land of those who are “not eligible for citizenship”. Nina Ichikawa, executive director of the Berkeley Food Institute, whose great-grandfather owned farmland in Contra Costa County, said the goal of the law is to “intimidate, threaten and maintain submissive status” Asian immigrant farmers. Many Japanese farmers circumvent the law by creating land trusts or buying under the names of their American-born children, but the state is soon closing those loopholes. By 1930, the arable land farmed by Japanese Americans had declined by nearly 50 percent. Nine other states enact similar laws.
1910–1920: Black farming reaches its peak: Black farmers own more land (approximately 20 million acres) and comprise a larger proportion of all farmers in the country (14 percent) than ever before in the next century.
1930s: White bureaucrats in the county’s USDA offices are systematically excluding black farmers from New Deal subsidies, leading to an increasing concentration of wealth in large white farms.
1942: After the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, requiring the removal of the approx. 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry from their homes in California, Oregon, Arizona, and Washington. Sent to prison camp, many Japanese Americans are permanently losing their farms and businesses. After being fired, Ichikawa of the Berkeley Food Institute says some have chosen to congregate in big cities instead of returning to farms for safety reasons. “They just said, ‘Why go back to a place where my neighbors hate me … where they helped the US government rob me of my rights and fall like vultures on my farmland and property.'”
1960s: As part of a wider backlash among the southern white elite, “USDA gun programs have been tightened to punish civil rights activities,” writes historian Pete Daniel. Cut off from government aid, many black farmers are forced to sell or give up their land, contributing to the emigration of black southerners to the north. Until the mid-1960s less than six percent of the nation’s peasants are black.
1965: The Civil Rights Commission notes that the USDA discriminates against black farmers. The division’s first civil rights director, William Seabron, is appointed, but his role is largely symbolic.
1984: The USDA’s civil rights enforcement program is slowing down to a “virtual standstill“After several leadership changes and budget cuts of nearly $ 1 million under the Reagan administration. Rubén Martinez, director of the Julian Samora Research Institute at Michigan State University, says, “Under Reagan, they pretty much dismantled the USDA’s Civil Rights Office and kind of languished.” Such actions, he said, have made it difficult for Latinos to get credit and manage farms even though they are today the largest demographic group active in agriculture.
1999: In Pigford v. Glickman, a district court finds the USDA continues to discriminate against black farmers and orders a $ 1 billion settlement. Of the nearly 23,000 black farmers who file claims, only 15,749 receive payments, with most receiving $ 50,000 each.
2010s: Some Indian tribes have asked their residents to give them a. to pay voluntary fee for the life on the land their tribe once owned. Seat leaders can pay the Duwamish tribe, and non-Bay Area residents can contribute to the Ohlone people. Although it is still rare, some people have independently chosen to pay reparations or return land to the indigenous people. A woman in Utah helped pay for her great-grandfather’s business Transfer $ 250,000 to the Ute tribe in Utah. A farmer in Nebraska signed a return deed 1.6 hectare property of native maize to the Ponca tribe.
2020: The proposed Law on Justice for Black Peasants aims to correct “historical discrimination“Of federal subsidies and loans that have lost millions of acres of farmland and” stole hundreds of billions of dollars of intergenerational wealth from black farmers and their families. ” The bill would provide $ 8 billion annually to buy farmland and give it to black farmers.
This story is part of our edition of Black Land Matters as we explore the history of government theft of farmland from colored people, investigate discrimination within the USDA, and portray a new generation of black farmers struggling to return to their land.