Volume 8, Number 25                                         January 31, 2006

The Farmer

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HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE OF LAND OWNERSHIP AND THE CONSTITUTION

Presented at the

First National Conference on African American Farmers and Land Legacy

January 28, 2006

Holiday Inn Select

Memphis, Tennessee

By

Gary R. Grant, President

Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association (BFAA)

 

We have talked a lot about the role of the USDA in the plight of the Black farmers, but have we asked the right questions: 1. What is the mission of the USDA, 2. what rights under the Constitution do the Black farmers have and 3. Have Black farmers every exercised those rights?

On the surface you may think that the USDA was established to promote the well being of all farmers, however her actions through out the years indicate that she has shown no real intent to help Black farmers. The USDA is a part of the Executive Branch of government and therefore does the wishes of whatever president is in office. Do you want me to start naming some good presidents that had Black farmers interest in mind?

When the Constitution was written, Black people were slaves and had no constitutional rights. In fact they were included as 3/5ths of a person for statistical purposes because the South wanted to use them to get more representation, but Blacks were given no rights as slaves. As a sidebar, the Constitution was set up to give white landowners the right to vote to put in representatives and senators to carry forth the "business" of government to coordinate the relationship between sovereign corporations called "states". It was set up as a "republic" and not a "democracy". Blacks and women were not given the right to vote.

After slavery between 1865 and 1877 Blacks in the South exercised political power and were allowed to exercise many privileges of citizens: 1, They had the right to assemble, 2. bare arms, 3. own private property and hire themselves out for wages and 4. VOTE. However, after the Hayes’ Compromise in 1877 the Northern troops were removed from the South and the "Reconstruction" process was replaced by political disenfranchisement, segregation and Jim Crow. However, Blacks utilized their skills, large families and exercised their Constitutional rights to buy and own private property in the form of farmland.

Then in 1900 America for the very first time instituted a National Census. Before that time the US had no real idea how many Blacks there were, nor what properties did they possess. They found that by 1900 Blacks owned about 13 million acres, but by 1910 it had risen to 16 million acres.

Dr. Ridgely gave you numbers yesterday on the percent of farms owned by Blacks in the southern states. I can give them again if you like ---

Percent of Farms Owned by Blacks:

Mississippi Over 60%

South Carolina 50 to 60%

Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana 40 to 50%

Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia 20 to 30%

Not only did we own farm land but:

· African-Americans received patents on more than 1,200 inventions in the 50 years between 1863 and 1913.

· Early in the 20th century, black Americans established such new towns as Mound Bayou, Mississippi,

· Nicodemus, Kans., Langston, Okla. and others.

· Boley, Oklahoma had a population of 4,000 at the turn of the century. The town was governed and run by blacks, and boasted, among other establishments, a bank, twenty-five grocery stores, five hotels, seven restaurants, a water works, an electric plant, four cotton gins, a bottling works, a telephone exchange and a lumberyard.

Durham, NC "Negro Wall Street"

· In addition to 150 thriving businesses, Durham’s black commercial district was home to an area internationally known as the "Negro Wall Street," a collection of banks and insurance companies that represented "one of the most dramatic examples of concentrated African American financial might this country has ever produced."

· These financial institutions were so sound that they helped virtually every black business in Durham survive the Depression.

Tulsa, Okl "Black Wall Street"

· Enterprising blacks turned the Greenwood section of Tulsa into a bustling commercial center.

· Numerous service industries thrived, black doctors, lawyers and other professionals maintained offices there and the neat homes of the middle class "lined Detroit Avenue, reflecting their business or professional success."

· Blacks owned 4 private airplanes.

The fear and jealousy of white America rose up to take away the gains acquired by Blacks working hard and using their rights to buy and own property. Whites produced 30 years of pure terror. For 30 years from 1890 to 1920 one Black person was lynched every three days.

The USDA went to work to get back those 16 million acres of land by giving the white farmers access to capital as America moved from the agrarian age to the age of industrialized agriculture. In the agrarian age Blacks had the advantage because they had large families and a work ethic. The USDA paid colleges to do research that would produce labor savings technologies that would allow one man to cover more acres. Of course you would need capital, money to purchase these new technologies.

The result was that between 1920 and 1992 the number of Black farmers in the U.S. declined from 925,710 to 18,816 or by 98 percent. In 1984 and 1985, the USDA lent $1.3 billion to farmers nationwide to buy land. Of the almost 16,000 farmers who received those funds, only 209 were Black.

As industrialization grew, the need to control markets and expand production using expensive equipment became apparent to farmers as they saw the value of their crop staying the same while the cost of production went up. The government set up land banks, subsidy programs and marketing orders. The white farmers set up production and marketing co-ops.

Today, those industrial agribusinesses like confined hog growing facilities have devastated Black communities emotionally and environmentally. In North Carolina where we have 10 million pigs plus growing in confined facilities, we find:

19 million tons of feces and urine a year

over 50,000 tons every single day being flushed from confinement buildings into sewage pits called "lagoons"  

Which is more fecal matter in Eastern North Carolina each day than is produced by all the citizens in North Carolina, California, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, New Hampshire, and North Dakota combined.

(Dr. Mark SobseyUNC)

In the top 15 hog producing counties in North Carolina:

12 out of the 15 have African American populations of at least 30%

13 out of the 15 have a 25% or higher African American poverty rate

14 of the 15 counties rank in the bottom 50% of North Carolina's family income state ranking

Of course the Black farmers were discriminated against and persecuted or killed if they tried to exercise their constitutional rights to form associations and organizations like their white brethrens. In the meantime the Black farmers not only fought their own battles but welcomed the young Blacks from the North as they marched and rode for freedom in the South. It was these Black farmers and landowners who had the property to put up for bail to get the activists out of the jails in the Deep South.

The Civil Rights division was set up in the USDA to protect the rights of Black farmers in the let 70s only to be removed in the early 80s by the Reagan administration. Finally the Black farmers were successful in bringing the USDA to court only to be scammed by their white lawyer. The BFAA, which started the lawsuit, did not send their lawyer to DC to get $50,000 dollars but to stop the foreclosure on 3,000 Black farmers and get back the land that had been taken before by the USDA. When BFAA found out what their lawyer did they went to DC to the "fairness hearing" and protested certain provisions of the lawsuit. In particular we knew that the phrase "similarly situated white farmer" was an escape clause for the government not to pay or remove the debt from the legitimate Black farmers. Instead the Consent Decree, which states "Neither this Consent Decree nor any order approving this Consent Decree is or shall be construed as an admission by the defendant (the USDA) of the truth of any allegation or the validity of any claim asserted in the complaint or of the defendant's liability therefore, nor as a concession or an admission of any fault …," paid out a lot of $50,000 checks to Black people, but not to the farmers that had debt with the USDA. They slivered out like the snake they have always been. Judge Paul Friedman ruled in is 39 page ruling of the Consent Decree stated, "It is a fair, adequate and reasonable settlement."

One story I have not heard mentioned here is about a Black farmer from Southampton County, VA who on December 19, 2002 was awarded a $6.6 million dollar settlement. The case had been in the court for over 17 years. Judge Constance T. O’Bryant said:

"He (the Black Farmer) knew racism was widespread in the county, indeed, he had been victimized by it. However, he held onto his faith that the federal government would treat him fairly. Regrettably, he found that this was not to be. Mr. Warren challenged the establishment and he has paid a hefty price for it."

However, in Mid 2003 – Lou Gallegos, director of USDA Civil Rights Division was forced into retirement for not challenging the O’Bryant Ruling.

America is set up under three branches: the executive, the judicial and the legislative. Black farmers tried going through the administrative process within the USDA which is under the executive branch. Black farmers did not get help there. Then they went to the courts, the judicial branch in the Pigford v Glickman, and got tricked there. Now Black farmers are going to congress, the legislative branch with legislation to get their land back and attempt to get the capital to compete. We are asking you to help us get these letters signed and put in the hands of legislators.

William Johnson, past president of the (Black) Urban League of Rochester, NY and now Mayor of that city, has called for urban Blacks to take a stand on Black land loss. In an article he wrote, Johnson said

"While many of us have escaped the daily despair, we cannot escape the enormous implication of this problem. The fate of rural and urban America are inextricably bound … These farmers need our financial support, but they need something more. They need our moral and political support to reform the political and economic policies which are driving them into extinction."

As we pass out these letters we are educating the masses about not only the problem of the Black farmers, but we are organizing potential markets for the Black farmers.

We must get our land back. Now they are taking away our very homes. They ran Blacks off the land, yet we managed to retain our homes. But now they are using situations like Katrina and the new interpretation of eminent domain to take away our homes as well. Nation wide 46.3% of Black households own their on homes. However, in the states where we used to own farms, our percentages are above average. Even in New Orleans’ poor Lower Ninth Ward, 60% of Black households owned their homes.

Black Home ownership 1910 % Black farms

· South Carolina 60.9% 50 to 60%

· Mississippi 60.7% Over 60%

· Lower Ninth Ward (60%)

· Alabama 57.6% 40 to 50%

· North Carolina 52.5% 20 to 30%

· Louisiana 51.8% 40 to 50%

· Virginia 51.1% 20 to 30%

· Georgia 50.8% 40 to 50%

So here comes the flood. 400,000 Blacks were put on buses and planes and shipped off to 44 states. They were shipped to states where most Black people are still renters, like New York, where Blacks own only 29.1% of their homes, Massachusetts 31.6%, and Minnesota 31.5%.

I was in New Orleans for the first congressional hearings held there. It was a shame the information that FEMA brought to the hearings. When questioned about the list of evacuees and where they were located --

Mayor Nagin does not know where they are. The Louisiana State Black Caucus does not know where they are and FEMA is doing everything it can not to tell. How can there be representation when the people are scattered like refugees in their own country?

We know that through this letter writing and educational program we can get the masses of Black people in the cities involved with our struggle. With numbers we can utilize our constitutional right to vote to make the government pay, however 18,000 Black farmers scattered all across the country have no political power.

Blacks must be unified in the struggle for land.

 

The leadership of Black organizations and institutions, and the Black churches must take a progressive and active position in the struggle for Black independence.

 

We must work across geographic, cultural, racial, religious and political boundaries to establish systems based on the decentralized economic control of farms and farm communities.

 

We must expand our efforts in agricultural economics and agribusinesses seeking to control agriculture from the seed to the supper table.

The symbol "Sankofa" teaches us to go back and fetch it. It is the symbol of wisdom in learning from the past in building the future.

We must inform our people to gain political leverage. We must organize our people to be the markets for our products once we go back into business. We can’t go back into business depending on the USDA to do the right thing when we don’t believe that she was set up to do the right thing by Black farmers in the first place.

In 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that, "the check to the American Negro has been returned, marked ‘insufficient funds.’"

At the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington, Al Sharpton pointed out that, "...the check is now marked ‘Stop Payment.’"

The first principal of Kwanzaa is UMOJA which encourages us to strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, race, nation and church.

We must get past the Willie Lynch Syndrome of pitching "the old Black vs. the young Black males, and the young Black male against the old Black male. You must use the dark slaves vs. the light skin slaves, and the light skin slaves vs. the dark skin slaves. You must use the female vs. the male, and the male vs. the female. You must also have your servants and overseers distrust all Blacks, but it is necessary that your slaves trust and depend on us. They must love, respect and trust only us."

I say we must LOVE, RESPECT AND TRUST ONLY US!!!! If we are going to make the change that will not only save the Black farmer but Black people in this country and perhaps the world.

You must remember that the Black farmer does not suffer from some temporary aberration for justice and fairness. Instead, we and our families are subjected to a persistent and degrading suppression of our living standards, our mental and physical health, and of our dignity and humanity.

We invite you to join us at the 8th National Black Land Loss Summit, "The Value of Land in a Post Katrina America," to be held in North Carolina, February 17-19, 2006.

Books and lectures by Dr. Ridgely A. Mu'min