Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

The Loss of Agricultural Land among Black Farmers

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

The Loss of Agricultural Land among Black Farmers

Article excerpt

Section 1

Introduction, Background Information and the Issues

Justifications For Researching Black Land Ownership

In the political economy of capitalism, access to land ownership ranks high as one of the critical factors of production (Marx 1970 & 1977; Mill 1997; Falk 1996). Not only are landed properties traded in the market place (Ricardo 1977; Caporoso and Levine 1992), financial institutions honor them as collaterals. Accordingly, land owners have greater financial possibilities. Land often serves as collateral for college educations and business initiatives. To some degree possession and control of land shape several aspects of rural life in the regions of the United States where minorities reside. Land ownership in these minority communities is highly indispensable since it is commonly viewed as a symbol of wealth. Apart from the economic importance, land ownership emboldens civic actions and political involvement considerably (Gilbert et al 2002).

Furthermore, land has also some cultural significance for minority groups ranging from African Americans to Hispanics. In the past Land ownership embodied a symbol of hope in the African American community, Black owned farms provided for families, communities, and helped give basic education to the youths. Farming sustained a Black middle class that was deeply immersed in social and political affairs of the day. More so, land provided a platform that sustained the emergence of Black Civil Rights (Rural Coalition 2001). This ability of African Americans to own property, reflects a shared desire amongst Americans who equate the Jeffersonian notion with land ownership economic independence and political equality. These are just some of the ways that land ownership is crucially important to rural minority communities including African American. This essential asset has for years been largely ignored in race and ethnic scholarship, agricultural policy making, and to some extent rural development practice. In light of this, land ownership information are critical for effective rural development practice as well as improved agricultural policy making (Gilbert et al 2002).

The Initial Surge In Land Ownership Among Blacks

The early rise in Black landownership during the late 19th century and early 20th century is quite evident in the literature. Hargis (1998) discusses the ascendancy of African Americans to land owner status during the reconstruction era. Elsewhere, Irwin and O'Brien (1998) examine sharecropping in nineteenth century Mississippi and shows evidence of family-based farming that was prevailing in the Black farming community. The growth in Black independent farmers who owned land has been also examined in other studies. W.E.B. Du Bois estimated 19th century progress in land ownership by black farmers. He put the figures as 3 million acres in 1875, 8 million in 1890, and 12 million in 1900. Census data identifies 1920 as the year when none white ownership of farmland reached its pinnacle in the Southern states (Aptheker 1970). Regarding the number of acreage owned, 1910 stands as the best moment for Southern minorities. At that time, non white farmers held in their possession over 12.8 million acres. However, by the 19th century when there were needs to set up farms on vacant lands, Black farmers obtained land through their business dealings with white landowners (Higgs 1977). The rise in farmland ownership among Blacks during the late 19th and early 20th centuries mirror a period of economic mobility for a number of farm operators. The surge in land ownership after 1900 can be attributed partially to increases in the price of cotton which continued until 1914. During the early 20th century Black farmers attained the status of landlords and philanthropic community leaders (Grim 1998).

The Issue of Landlessness Among Blacks In the Literature

The issues related to landlessness in the Black farming community have resonated in the work of several authors such as (Wypijewski 1997). …

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