Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement

By de Jong, Greta | The Journal of Southern History, February 2020 | Go to article overview

Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement


de Jong, Greta, The Journal of Southern History


Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement. By Monica M. White. Justice, Power, and Politics. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018. Pp. xviii, 189. $27.95, ISBN 978-1-46964369-4.)

Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement traces the roots of contemporary food justice activism to black intellectual traditions and agricultural practices dating to the colonial era. As Monica M. White shows, African Americans' relationship to the land was not defined solely by the oppressions inflicted by slavery and sharecropping. Agriculture was a site of struggle where black people pursued goals of economic and political empowerment and fought to overturn racist structures that were designed to keep them powerless and poor. This history has largely been ignored in popular portrayals of the local and organic food movement, which is often cast as a form of food snobbery practiced by status-conscious white people who shop at Whole Foods. In fact, the origins of this movement lie in the civil rights movement and earlier struggles for justice by African Americans.

White notes that landownership and food production were central to black conceptions of freedom, from the gardens tended by enslaved people to supplement their diets, through the self-sufficiency and self-determination advocated by Marcus Garvey, to the black-owned farms, grocery stores, and restaurants established by Black Power advocates in the 1960s to supply African American communities with healthy food. Booker T. Washington's training programs for farmers at Tuskegee Institute, George Washington Carver's pioneering research into organic farming techniques, and W. E. B. Du Bois's promotion of cooperative business models that provided alternatives to capitalist exploitation receive sustained attention for their contributions to strategies of "collective agency and community resilience (CACR)," a theoretical framework that White offers as a way to understand all of the activities described in the book (p. 5).

Using archival records, interviews, and newspaper sources, White analyzes four cooperative projects that enacted CACR in the late twentieth century. …

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