Dispossession: Discrimination against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights

Dispossession: Discrimination against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights

Dispossession: Discrimination against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights

Dispossession: Discrimination against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights

Synopsis

Between 1940 and 1974, the number of African American farmers fell from 681,790 to just 45,594--a drop of 93 percent. In his hard-hitting book, historian Pete Daniel analyzes this decline and chronicles black farmers' fierce struggles to remain on the land in the face of discrimination by bureaucrats in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He exposes the shameful fact that at the very moment civil rights laws promised to end discrimination, hundreds of thousands of black farmers lost their hold on the land as they were denied loans, information, and access to the programs essential to survival in a capital-intensive farm structure.
More than a matter of neglect of these farmers and their rights, this "passive nullification" consisted of a blizzard of bureaucratic obfuscation, blatant acts of discrimination and cronyism, violence, and intimidation. Dispossession recovers a lost chapter of the black experience in the American South, presenting a counternarrative to the conventional story of the progress achieved by the civil rights movement.

Excerpt

It is one thing to write as a poet and another to write as a historian:
the poet can recount or sing about things not as they were,
but as they should have been, and the historian must write about them
not as they should have been, but as they were,
without adding or subtracting anything from the truth.
—Miguel de Cervantes
, Don Quixote

Dispossession focuses on the third quarter of the twentieth century. Usually referred to as the civil rights era, this was a moment of extraordinary transformation in the rural United States. Science and technology applied to agriculture increased yields, made hand labor obsolete, and, combined with federal programs, drove 3.1 million farmers from the land. in the quarter century after 1950, over a half million African American farms went under, leaving only 45,000. in the 1960s alone, the black farm count in ten southern states (minus Florida, Texas, and Kentucky) fell from 132,000 to 16,000, an 88 percent decline. Whites also left southern farms during this decade, though the decrease was not as dramatic: 61,0 farms remained of the 145,000 a decade earlier, a 58 percent decline.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dismissed farm failures as the natural consequence of farmers’ adoption of machines and chemicals, but in fact, the usda shamelessly promoted capital-intensive operations and used every tool at its disposal to subsidize wealthy farmers and to encourage their devotion to science and technology. New was better; old was not meant to survive. By the 1950s, the intrusive tentacles of agrigovernment uncoiled from Washington through state and county offices and, paired with agribusiness, reconfigured the national farm structure. At the same time, the usda erected high hurdles, often barriers, that discouraged or prevented minorities and women from securing acreage allotments, loans, and information. Paradoxically, the earlier increase in . . .

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