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Black farmers continue to await justice

Juliana D. Norwood | 10/27/2010, 5 p.m.

With a sloped back, cracked hands, and veined and muscled arms, Destin Samford, a sharecropper now generations away from Minkah, his African ancestor, cultivates a field in Alabama. In August, he turns away from the white-orange sun fading against a wine-colored sky to scan the earth speckled with cotton bolls framed by green leaves. He bends, back curved and crooked in places, to pull a boll of cotton from the tough spiny casing, marking the beginning of the harvest.
- Diane Glave

History Of Black Farmers And Their Loss
People of African descent have a life-long legacy of farming, cultivating and working the land, long before they were stripped from their homeland and forced to till the soil by their pale-faced masters. Farming originated as a way of life; a means of survival.

For centuries, farming techniques were passed down through generations, and even today many farmers remain although the number of those of African descent seems to dwindle continuously.
According to "Black Farming and Land Lost: A History," in 1910, nearly one million Black farmers in America owned a total of 15 million acres of land; but by 1969 they held only six million acres.
In 1920, Blacks owned 14 percent of the nation's farms; today, there are only 18,000 Black farmers, representing less than 1 percent of all farms in the country.

There is a very logical explanation for why this drastic change in the amount of landownership by African Americans occurred.

The Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment granted freedom to more than four million Black Americans and, at the point, the government did attempt to integrate these freed men into U.S. everyday life. Most notably, in 1865 General William T. Sherman's Field Order #15 (most commonly known as the "40 acres and a mule" promise) was put into place. Unfortunately, when President Andrew Johnson came into power he reversed the policy, and most African Americans never received the much-needed land.

The following year, the Freedman's Bureau was formed to aid freed Blacks and poor Whites, and 45 million acres of public land in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Florida were opened to settlers regardless of race.

"According to Black Farming and Land Lost: A History" This created the first major opportunity for Blacks to own land and many were able to take advantage of that by working as sharecroppers and tenant farmers. During the next 40 years, Blacks acquired nearly 15 million acres of farmland.

White Southerners, not at all pleased with the massive uprising of African Americans, started to implement laws that restricted the rights of Blacks, and so came the birth of the "Jim Crow" era.

Segregation of Blacks in all factions of life became routine, and racial tensions began to rise significantly with the birth of the Ku Klux Klan.

According to the Library of Congress, the hardships Blacks had to endure at the hands of racist Whites, coupled with the plummeting costs of cotton, and the onslaught of the Great Depression caused many African Americans to search for refuge in the Northern states, which were in desperate need of bodies to run factories during World War I. An estimated one million Blacks had left the South by 1930, consequently defaulting on their farm loans, crushing Black-owned banks and marking the first Great Migration.