In , according to the historian James C. Cobb, black landowners in Tunica County outnumbered white ones three to one.
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According to the U. Department of Agriculture, there were 25, black farm operators in , an increase of almost 20 percent from Black farmland in Mississippi totaled 2. The foothold was never secure. From the beginning, even the most enterprising black landowners found themselves fighting a war of attrition, often fraught with legal obstacles that made passing title to future generations difficult.
m-asia.ru/includes/37.php Bohlen Lucas, one of the few black Democratic politicians in the Delta during Reconstruction most black politicians at the time were Republicans , was born enslaved and managed to buy a acre farm from his former overseer, as the historian John C. Willis has documented in his book, Forgotten Time.
But, like many farmers, who often have to borrow against expected harvests to pay for equipment, supplies, and the rent or mortgage on their land, Lucas depended on credit extended by powerful lenders. In his case, credit depended specifically on white patronage, given in exchange for his help voting out the Reconstruction government—after which his patrons abandoned him. He was left with 20 acres.
In Humphreys County, Lewis Spearman avoided the pitfalls of white patronage by buying less valuable wooded tracts and grazing cattle there as he moved into cotton. But when cotton crashed in the s, Spearman, over his head in debt, crashed with it. White farmers responded with a posse that may have killed as many as black farmers and sharecroppers along with women and children.
Some sources say he escaped to Jackson, and into anonymity. Like so many of his forebears, Ed Scott Sr. As recorded in the thick binders of family history that Willena had brought along in the truck, and that we flipped through between stretches of work in the fields, his life had attained the gloss of folklore.
He was born in in western Alabama, a generation removed from bondage. Spurred by that same land hunger, Scott took his young family to the Delta, seeking opportunities to farm his own property. He sharecropped and rented, and managed large farms for white planters, who valued his ability to run their sprawling estates. One of these men was Palmer H.
Brooks was uncommonly progressive, encouraging entrepreneurship among the black laborers on his plantation, building schools and churches for them, and providing loans. Scott was ready when Brooks decided to sell plots to black laborers, and he bought his first acres. Unlike Bohlen Lucas, Scott largely avoided politics. Unlike Lewis Spearman, he paid his debts and kept some close white allies—a necessity, since he usually rejected government assistance.
He leveraged technical skills and a talent for management to impress sympathetic white people and disarm hostile ones. They were a trapping of pride in a life of toil. As was true in most rural areas at the time, a new truck was not just a flashy sign of prosperity but also a sort of credit score. Wearing starched dress shirts served the same purpose, elevating Scott in certain respects—always within limits—even above some white farmers who drove into town in dirty overalls. The trucks got shinier as his holdings grew.
By the time Scott died, in , he had amassed more than 1, acres of farmland. Scott-White guided me right up to the Quiver River, where the legend of her family began. It was a choked, green-brown gurgle of a thing, the kind of lazy waterway that one imagines to be brimming with fat, yawning catfish and snakes. She swept her arm to encompass the endless acres. That era of black ownership , in the Delta and throughout the country, was already fading by the time Scott died.
As the historian Pete Daniel recounts, half a million black-owned farms across the country failed in the 25 years after Joe Brooks, the former president of the Emergency Land Fund, a group founded in to fight the problem of dispossession, has estimated that something on the order of 6 million acres was lost by black farmers from to Black-owned cotton farms in the South almost completely disappeared, diminishing from 87, to just over 3, in the s alone.
According to the Census of Agriculture, the racial disparity in farm acreage increased in Mississippi from to , when black farmers lost almost , acres of land. This was a silent and devastating catastrophe, one created and maintained by federal policy. President Franklin D. In , President John F. The ASCS was a federal effort—also within the Department of Agriculture—but, crucially, the members of committees doling out money and credit were elected locally, during a time when black people were prohibited from voting.
Through these programs, and through massive crop and surplus purchasing, the USDA became the safety net, price-setter, chief investor, and sole regulator for most of the farm economy in places like the Delta. The department could offer better loan terms to risky farmers than banks and other lenders, and mostly outcompeted private credit.
Large plantations ballooned into even larger industrial crop factories as small farms collapsed. The mega-farms held sway over agricultural policy, resulting in more money, at better interest rates, for the plantations themselves. At every level of agrigovernment, the leaders were white.
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Major audits and investigations of the USDA have found that illegal pressures levied through its loan programs created massive transfers of wealth from black to white farmers, especially in the period just after the s. In , the United States Commission on Civil Rights uncovered blatant and dramatic racial differences in the level of federal investment in farmers.
In Sunflower County, a man named Ted Keenan told investigators that in , local banks had denied him loans after a bad crop because of his position with the NAACP, where he openly advocated for voting rights. The FmHA had denied him loans as well. Strider and Weathersby were reportedly free to run this racket because black farmers were shut out by local banks. Analyzing the history of federal programs, the Emergency Land Fund emphasizes a key distinction. Discriminatory loan servicing and loan denial by white-controlled FmHA and ASCS committees forced black farmers into foreclosure, after which their property could be purchased by wealthy landowners, almost all of whom were white.
Discrimination by private lenders had the same result. Many black farmers who escaped foreclosure were defrauded by white tax assessors who set assessments too high, leading to unaffordable tax obligations. The inevitable result: tax sales, where, again, the land was purchased by wealthy white people.
Then, in , the activist James Meredith—whose fight to integrate Ole Miss sparked deadly riots and a wave of white backlash—embarked on the famous March Against Fear. The next planting season, Woodard recalled, his white lenders ignored him. In Holmes County, a crucible of the voting-rights movement, a black effort to integrate the local ASCS committees was so successful that it was subject to surveillance and sabotage by the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, an official agency created by Governor J.
Coleman in to resist integration. Black landowners involved in running for the committees or organizing for votes faced fierce retaliation. These cases of dispossession can only be called theft. While the civil-rights era is remembered as a time of victories against disenfranchisement and segregation, many realities never changed. The engine of white wealth built on kleptocracy—which powered both Jim Crow and its slave-state precursor—continued to run.
The black population in Mississippi declined by almost one-fifth from to , as the white population increased by the exact same percentage. Farmers slipped away one by one into the night, appearing later as laborers in Chicago and Detroit. By the time black people truly gained the ballot in Mississippi, they were a clear minority, held in thrall to a white conservative supermajority. Mass dispossession did not require a central organizing force or a grand conspiracy.
Thousands of individual decisions by white people, enabled or motivated by greed, racism, existing laws, and market forces, all pushed in a single direction. But some white people undeniably would have organized it this way if they could have.
An upheaval of this scale and speed—the destruction of black farming, an occupation that had defined the African American experience—might in any other context be described as a revolution, or seen as a historical fulcrum. But it came and went with little remark. World War II transformed America in many ways. It certainly transformed a generation of southern black men. That generation included Medgar Evers, a future civil-rights martyr, assassinated while leading the Mississippi NAACP; he served in a segregated transportation company in Europe during the war. These men were less patient, more defiant, and in many ways more reckless than their fathers and grandfathers had been.