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

By de Jong, Greta | The Journal of Southern History, August 2014 | Go to article overview

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


de Jong, Greta, The Journal of Southern History


Dispossession: Discrimination against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights. By Pete Daniel. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013. Pp. [xviii], 332. $34.95, ISBN 978-1-4696-0201-1.)

In this study of the policies pursued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the civil rights era, Pete Daniel examines one of the paradoxes of the black freedom movement and its aftermath. Progress toward legal and political equality for African Americans in the 1960s and 1970s was accompanied by the economic marginalization of black workers as the modernization of southern agriculture pushed thousands of sharecroppers, tenants, and small farmers off the land. Daniel makes clear that this process was not simply the result of scientific and technological developments that lessened the need for cheap black labor. Racist administrators of federal farm programs actively encouraged the mass displacement of black farmers by withholding loans, subsidies, information, and other assistance.

The book focuses on three key USDA agencies whose influence over rural communities amounted to what one administrator called '"a shadow government'" (p. 3). The Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service determined the amount of acreage farmers could plant and dispensed millions of dollars in farm subsidies. The Federal Extension Service worked through the nation's land-grant colleges to conduct research, experiment with new techniques, and advise farmers on the best ways to increase crop yields. The Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) offered low-interest loans for land purchases, equipment, and operating expenses. Historically, these agencies favored the interests of large landowners over small farmers and offered only limited, inferior service to rural black people compared with the benefits they showered on white Americans. When the civil rights movement forced the USDA to address its record of racial discrimination, administrators responded with rhetorical support for racial equality while pursuing a strategy of "passive nullification" that effectively neutralized antidiscrimination measures (p. …

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