African AmericansBlack AmericaBlack Interests

This Land is Our Land Too


Black Cotton Farmers

By William Reed

This land is your land and this land is my land, but Whites’ lands and White lands haven’t been treated the same.    America is a capitalistic country founded on free slave labor..  Over the centuries, Blacks have been the ones toiling and tilling the land only occasionally owning it.  America is built on the premise and practice: only White male property owners had the right to vote.  Throughout our time here Blacks have been exploited, and marginalized.  

Contemporary Black Americans should take special economic note and record of Black slaves role in the building of the nation’s commercial infrastructure.  Ownership of land and cultivation of it is capitalist enterprise.  Throughout America’s existence agriculture has been a major industry.  Improving and expanding uses for agriculture and mechanization of farming was major turn-of-the-century business that included John Deere’s steel plow, Cyrus McCormick’s mechanical reaper, Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, Fordson’s tractor, and combine harvesters.

The legacy of slavery still has a cultural impact across America.  And, make no mistake about it; “Race” has always been a constant determinant in American economics.  American cultivation of tobacco was extremely labor-intensive and slave labor was integral to tobacco farming and cultivating.   Tobacco cultivation and exports formed an essential component of colonial America’s economy during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Eddie Cotton, 82, Hermanville, MS, clears a field for a fall crop of hay, using a 40-yr-old tractor. He is among thousands of black farmers denied federal loans in past years. "They took away my ability to provide for my family," he says of the discrimination. ©Robin Nelson/ZUMA

Eddie Cotton, 82, Hermanville, MS, clears a field for a fall crop of hay, using a 40-yr-old tractor. He is among thousands of black farmers denied federal loans in past years.
“They took away my ability to provide for my family,” he says of the discrimination.
©Robin Nelson/ZUMA

Beyond being in the fields, African Americans made substantial contributions to the nation’s agriculture and commerce.   Henry Blair (1807-1860) was a free farmer and inventor of a seed and cotton planter.  George Washington Carver (1864-1943) was a botanist and inventor.  Carver gained wide acclaim as publisher of a research bulletin that included interesting ways to use peanuts. Carver advised Mahatma Gandhi on matters of agriculture and nutrition. Lloyd Augustus Hall (1894-1971) was a chemist who contributed to the science of food preservation. His research led to improved curing salts and improved meat preservation.  Percy Lavon Julian (1899-1975) was a research pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants. Julian helped trigger an explosive growth industry for soybeans.  Joseph Lee (1849-1905), invented a device that could mechanize tearing, crumbling and grinding bread into crumbs.  Norbert Rillieux (1806-1894) is most noted for inventions toward the development and growth of the sugar industry.

The idea of owning land is an old notion and American mantra forged by the sword through the years.  Americans touting that “The land is the only thing worth working for, fighting for and worth dying for” has become legendary folklore.  For the most part, Blacks have left the land.  In the “Great Migration,” large numbers of rural African Americans moved from the South to cities north and east.  In these Black enclaves, Blacks’ urbanization and assimilation have led to “mainstream values” of European standards of beauty and masculinity.  Black culture should reflect that an educated and entrepreneurial Black middle class existed in America before emancipation.  Things only began to change for Blacks with the Civil Rights movement. A Black middle class has grown in South DeKalb (Atlanta), Prince George’s County (DC/MD), and Baldwin Hills (Los Angeles).

Black Farmers2

For most of their time in America, Blacks have been short changed.  While Blacks are engaged in “mainstream politics,” equitable treatment of Black farmers should be ratcheted up.  Blacks should stop losing land.  According to the Census of Agriculture, the number of Black farmers increased 12 percent since 2007, but now makes up less than 2 percent of farmers as a whole.  In 1920, Black farmers represented about 14 percent of the country’s farmers but now operate just 0.4 percent of American farmland and account for 0.2 percent of total agricultural sales.  A culprit in the plight of Black farmers is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  In the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit, 400 Black farmers alleged that the USDA denied them loans based on racial discrimination. In a case of “too little too late” US courts have awarded thousand of payments due claimants in Pigford I and in 2010, President Obama announced an additional $1.25 billion settlement, known as Pigford II.   But, the number of Blacks Pais” has been nil.  Why not investigate why these claims have not been paid?

William Reed

William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via


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