In Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery, bell hooks wrote, “Collective black self-recovery takes place when we begin to renew our relationship to the earth, when we remember the way of or ancestors….Living in modern society, without a sense of history, it has been easy for folks to forget that black people were first and foremost a people of the land, farmers.” Persons, who are still farming in various states across the United States, are carrying on the fight for economic and civil rights for land-based African American people. This fight began during days of slavery. In 1920, African Americans owned nearly 15 million acres of farmland. Due to racism, violence, and massive migration from the rural South to the North have caused a steady decline in the number of Black farmers. Institutional racism in agricultural policies of the USDA has played a major role in the decline of Black farmers. By 2007, African American farmers numbered about one in seventy, together owning only 4.2 million acres. One of the most impressive contemporary examples of an organization, that grew out of the civil rights movement, that helped organize and support Black and small farmers in rural communities, is the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. The federation formed in 1967 and today have more than 100 coops in its membership across the South in sixteen states. Other organizations like the National Black Farmers Association, the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, the Land Loss Prevention Project, along with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives have been challenging racism in agricultural policy through legal action.
There is on the horizon, a fast-growing movement of African Americans reclaiming their connection to their urban land and their food. This is being done as part of food justice and food sovereignty movements. People’s Grocery and Mo’ Better Food in Oakland, Growing Power, Rooted in Community, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, and many others are organizing with farmers and connecting African American growers and consumers. The work of these groups includes youth programs and urban gardening in areas where access to healthy, affordable food is limited, which is the case in many low-income and people of color communities. More importantly, these groups, particularly the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, are working for communities of color to have democratic control over their own food systems. Raising awareness, relative to the ways that African American communities and communities of color have been sidelined with the food movement itself, is one of these many organizations’ major roles.
It is critical that various groups involved, that are enabling communities of color gain democratic control over their food systems, continue to educate and organize, nation-wide, on structural racism as it impacts health, farming, food and land. These organizations have shown that they are determined and committed to breaking and knocking down barriers to food production and food access. There is a need to have persons and organizations join the world-wide movement for food sovereignty in their own communities. This will afford citizen control over food and agriculture to exist globally. Achieving racial justice in the food systems is not the sole burden of African Americans but a people’s clarion call all over the earth! Raising awareness of systemic disparities and working together to end them is a God’s responsibility of humankind’s survival.
Dr. Betty Whitted Holley is the Director for the Master of Divinity Degree Program and Associate Professor of Environmental Ethics & African American Religious Studies at Payne Theological Seminary. She also serves on the board of Creation Justice Ministries.
3/1/2020 06:31:24 pm
Dr. Holley, thank you for writing this piece. I have studied my family history and noticed the loss of land over time. I do have family now that farm and it really makes me proud. I need to read "Sisters of the Yam."
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This blog shares the activities of Creation Justice Ministries. We educate and equip Christians to protect, restore, and rightly share God's creation.