“Revolution is based on land. Land is the basis of all independence. Land is the basis of freedom, justice, and equality.” – Malcolm X
Having control over a piece of land can allow you to grow your own food, generate some income, have a place to call home, and organize your community. But Black farmers have been historically wrenched from this vital resource. Making up 14 percent of the American farming population in the 1920s, Black farmers account for less than 2 percent of US farmers today. For historian Peter Daniels, it is “as if the earth was opening up and swallowing Black farmers.” It wasn’t the earth that swallowed them up, it was structural and physical violence. Whether it was mobs that drove Black people off their land, legal loopholes that delegitimized Black people’s claim to land, or discriminatory lending practices, the result was the same: a loss of land and independence. In the US today, just five white individuals own more rural land than all Black people combined.
This Black History Month, we are highlighting the work of Dr. Monica White, whose book Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement, shows how Black farming has been, and continues to be, a key strategy for collective agency and community resilience. We also continue to celebrate the work of Soul Fire Farm and Leah Penniman’s essential book Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Guide to Liberation On the Land (also featured in this beautiful music video documentary by Taina Asili).
For many within the Black community, farming and land are linked to historical trauma. But as Chris Bolden-Newsome says, “just as the land was the scene of the crime, the land was not the crime.” There’s more to the history of Black farming than slavery and oppression. It is seeds and grains of rice woven into the hair of enslaved African women as they were taken on the Middle Passage. It is Southern farmers sharing their crops with relatives and abolitionist organizers to support the Civil Rights movement. It is cooperatively-owned farms and organizations like the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. It is agroecology. It is the foundation of resistance and the promise of liberation.
In community and solidarity,
Tiffani, Tanya, Anna, and Christina
Header photo background image: Philly Urban Creators, quote overlay by Real Food Media