Relocalization of Food Production African American Land Retention

Relocalization of Food Production – African American Land Retention


A collaboration between The Black Belt Justice Center and Quaker Earthcare Witness 

Tracy, McCurty,  Pamela Boyce Simms

Mustard Geens, Jonathan Green
Mustard Greens, Jonathan Green

1862 (May) – Congress passed the Homestead Act accelerating Western migration by providing white settlers with 160 acres of land (taken from Indigenous Nations). The Act led to the distribution of 80 million acres of public land by 1900.

Dakota – US War (Aug-Dec) results from years of broken treaties, land theft, non-payment of annuities, food shortages, famine, cultural annihilation and genocide. President Lincoln ordered the mass execution of 38 Dakota warriors. Dakota were banished from their sovereign lands in Minnesota, to South Dakota and Nebraska.

1865 (Jan) After meeting with freed Africans in Savanna GA – General William Sherman responded to their demands for land. In January he issued the famous Special Field Order 15, setting aside a huge swath of abandoned lands along the Georgia, South Carolina and Florida coasts for Black families up to 40 acres per plot.

1865 – 40,000 freed Africans were settled on 400,000 acres of land in Georgia and South

Black Land Loss
Black Land Loss Project

Carolina. Later that summer President Andrew Johnson reversed the policy and ordered the land to be returned to the planter oligarchy.

1865 – Congress established the Freedman’s Bureau providing for the redistribution of abandoned or confiscated lands to freedmen. The Freedman’s Bureau never controlled more than two tenths of 1 % of the land in the south and President’s Johnson’s amnesty proclamation forced restoration of much of that land. Congress shut down the Bureau in 1872.

1866 – Congress passes the Southern Homestead Act which opened up 46 million acres of public land in AL, AR, FL, LA and MS. Due to the severe opposition to Black land ownership in the south, obstacles were placed in the path of Black Farmers on the state level. Within 10 years the act was repealed by Congress, in June 1876.

1910 – In spite of neglect, hostility and sanctioned racial violence by the federal government and the southern states, Blacks had acquired over 15 million acres of farmland and controlled 218,000 black farms.

Civil Rights Era – In the 25 years after 1950, over half million African American farmers went under leaving only 45,000 growers.

  • In the 1960’s Black farm count in the south declined by 88%. African American farmers now own less than 3 million acres of farmland and comprise less than 1% of US farmers.

    Black Land Loss Project
  • Of all private U.S. agricultural land, whites account for 96% of the owners, 97% of the value, and 98% of the acreage.

1964 – US Commission on Civil rights Investigation exposed how USDA actively worked against the economic interests of Black farmers.

  • The Farmer’s Home Administration, the USDA Loan Administration denied Black farmers,
    • ownership and operating loans,
    • disaster relief,
    • other types of aid,
    • credit if they assisted Civil Rights Activists, NAACP, registered to vote, or signed a petition.

1982 – A Civil Rights Commission Report noted that the USDA was, “a catalyst in the decline of the Black farmer.” Black farmers received only:

  • 1% of farm ownership loans,
  • 2.5% of farm operating loans,
  • 1% of all soil and water conservation loans.

1997 – Pigford vs/ Glickman African American farmers’ law suit brought against the USDA for its racially discriminatory policies and practices in its allocation of farm loans and assistance between 1981 and 1996. The lawsuit was settled on April 14, 1999. To date, almost $1 billion has been paid or credited to more than 13,300 African American farmers.

Contributing Factors to African American Land Loss

  1. Pervasive federal government discrimination,
  2. State and local structural dispossession processes:
    • tax sales,
    • partition sales,
    • foreclosures.
  3. Heirs property conflicts,
  4. Rural to urban migration,
  5. Lack of access to trustworthy and affordable legal services,
  6. Domination of industrial agricultural systems,
  7. Racial terrorism.


Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard

Whiteness As Property, Cheryl Harris

Only Six Million Acres: Black-Owned Land Loss in the Rural South, Black Economic Research Center

Sumter County Blues: The Ordeal of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, Thomas Bethell

Soul City, North Carolina: Black Power, Utopia, and the African American Dream, Christopher Strain

Ujamaa: Essays on African Socialism, Julius Nyerere

Slave Descendants Fight Tax Hikes, CNN hqps://







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