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We have the right to own land in the land that we towed

It is in the history of America’s agricultural sector, perhaps more than anywhere else, where ‘doing-for-self’ is revealed as absolute fiction. A farmer’s success (despite the popular notion of that success being a mixture of luck and determination) has always depended upon their ability to plug into an array of federal loans and subsidies that have undergirded and supported their efforts in the field. But for Black Americans who, post-emancipation, sought to satiate what W.E.B Du Bois called “land hunger”—a yearning to own, cultivate and prosper off of the soil which, for centuries, they’d been made to labor on for free—they would realize only the extent to which white America intended to keep them famished. And nothing so represents the government’s achievement to continually starve out its Black population’s land hunger than the tremendous decrease in Black farmers over the 20th century.

In 1920, there were nearly 1 million Black farmers in the United States. Today that number has plummeted to a mere 45,000, representing a tiny 1.3% of the country’s 3.4 million occupational total.1,3 This disappearance of Black farmers coincided with the vast dispossession of land they once owned. A 2017 Census of Agriculture revealed that over the last century, Black farmers had 12 million acres stripped away from them, or approximately 90% of their formerly owned farmland. That loss dramatically eclipses the 2% lost by white farmers during that same time, with much of it occurring within a very short period. Indeed between 1950 and 1969, Black farmers would be forced to forego 6 million acres, which averages out to 820 acres per day.2 In Mississippi alone, Black farmers were subject to a loss of 800,000 acres during that time.And in the 1960s, southern Black cotton farms virtually disappeared, shrinking from 87,000 to just over 3,000. The census also notes that the small number of Black farmers who could retain their land make less than $40,000 annually; that figure amounts to just a fraction (21%) of the $190,000 that white farmers earn each year. This disparity in earnings is directly correlated to the difference in Black-white farm sizes, as Black-owned farms are approximately a fourth the size of white farms.3 

Chief among the factors that have decimated Black farming is the historically discriminatory lending practices of both the USDA4 and the white-dominated financial institutions. These deliberate efforts to throttle Black agricultural production occurred in concert with anti-Black terrorism.5 An example of the harsh anti-Black terrorism that Black farmers suffered can be found in the story of Anthony Crawford, a Black farmer in Abbeville, South Carolina, who owned a 427-acre cotton farm. His public lynching and the subsequent dispossession of the family’s land were endemic to the one-two punch of anti-Black terrorism and land dispossession.6

Contrary to what many Black farmers may have anticipated when America’s first Black president was elected to office, their situation and prospects saw no improvement. Under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, the USDA foreclosed on many Black farmers who had outstanding discrimination complaints.4 These complaints ranged from denying Black farmers loans that were readily approved for white farmers to subjecting them to hostility and contempt in federal offices.4 Dating back to the 1950s, there are reports of local banks denying Black farmers loans simply because of the applicant’s association with pro-Black civic groups like the NAACP. In 2001, an investigation uncovered over 100 such cases.2 Many of these complaints were never addressed or resolved, and the frequency of those filings was often misrepresented in media coverage. One prominent case was Pigford v. Glickman, a class-action discrimination lawsuit brought against the USDA by Black farmers; it detailed many instances of the USDA failing to investigate or adequately respond to complaints from 1983 to 1997.7

With an eye toward addressing these past injustices, Biden, while campaigning, pledged to relieve the debt of Black farmers.8 However, upon taking office, the Biden administration developed a $4 billion direct relief program for farmers whose eligible recipients included everyone but white farmers. As a result, a series of lawsuits, including Miller v. Vilsack,8 have been filed by white farmers to prevent the USDA from distributing the relief. In this way, Black farmers who in the past were victimized through exclusionary policy are today victims of inclusive policy. There remains an opportunity for the administration to champion transformational policies designed to meaningfully address the past; that is, to specifically increase the number of Black farmers, to provide debt relief specifically to existing Black farmers, and to provide training and land to aspiring Black farmers. Specificity is essential when it comes to righting past wrongs. 

Through abandon, neglect, and abuse, Black America now barely competes in an industry that—by their stolen labor—fueled the growth of the richest country in the world. The massive, lineage-based land ownership gap currently faced by Black American farmers can only be rectified by comprehensive, sustained, and federally-led government intervention. As such, we require the following:

  • Farmland must be redistributed as land grants to Black Americans (comparable to the 160+ acres received by homesteading white Americans, and which would be secured via eminent domain, if necessary) until at least 15% of arable land in the United States is Black-owned.
    Today, just a handful of white families own more rural land than all Black Americans combined. Indeed, despite making up close to 13% of the population, Black Americans own less than 1% of the land in the United States.9 There have been, throughout American history, several government policies that assisted white Americans in obtaining land. The Homestead Act of 1862, for example, provided millions of acres for white American ownership; this included white men, white women, and European immigrants. However, Black Americans were excluded from this massive land grant initiative and subsequent land grant initiatives like the Timber Culture Act of 1873, the Kincaid Amendment of 1904, the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909, and the Stock-Raising Homestead Act of 1916. The redistribution of land outlined above will ensure the full inclusion of Black Americans in agriculture, and finally right the intentional, historic imbalance of government subsidies meant to promote agricultural output.

    Because lineage is so critical to the multigenerational plundering of Black farming in America, the ADOS Advocacy Foundation has developed the ADOS Matrix™ to be used as a rubric by legislators who will be writing policy with an eye toward proper historical redress. The ADOS Matrix™ must be utilized when prioritizing the provision of land grants for new Black farmers.

  • Government-backed, low-interest loans for the building of primary residences on newly granted and currently owned Black farmland.
    Black Americans must be able to start anew and build on the property they plan to farm.

  • Forgivable farm startup and operating loans.
    Starting and sustaining a farm is expensive. It is a venture that requires strong infrastructure and funding to succeed. Therefore, new and existing Black farmers must be undergirded by the support of the U.S. government through continued funding and training.

  • The USDA must audit all food distributors to ensure Black inclusion and fair, comparable pricing for goods produced by Black farmers.


    1. USDA NASS, 2017 Census of Agriculture

    2. Sewell, Summer. 2019. “There Were Nearly A Million Black Farmers In 1920. Why Have They Disappeared?”. The Guardian.
    3. Rosenberg, Nathan, and Bryce Wilson Stucki. 2019. “How USDA Distorted Data To Conceal Decades Of Discrimination Against Black Farmers | New Food Economy”. The Counter.

    4. Philpott, Tom, Kari Sonde, Tom Philpott, Andrea Guzman, and Tom Philpott. 2020. “White People Own 98 Percent Of Rural Land. Young Black Farmers Want To Reclaim Their Share.”. Mother Jones.

    5. Philpott, Tom, Kari Sonde, Tom Philpott, Andrea Guzman, and Tom Philpott. 2020. “White People Own 98 Percent Of Rural Land. Young Black Farmers Want To Reclaim Their Share.”. Mother Jones.

    6. Oyer, Kalyn. “New Documentary on Wealthy SC Black Cotton Farm Owner Who Was Lynched for Success.” Post and Courier, The Post and Courier, 17 Nov. 2020,

    7. Pigford v. Glickman, 185 F.R.D. 82 (D.D.C. 1999)

    8. Held, Lisa. 2021 “Black Farmers Still Await Debt Relief as Lawmakers Resolve Racist Lawsuits.” Civil Eats,

    9. Moore, Antonio. 2016. “Who Owns Almost All America’s Land?”, 15 Feb. 2016,

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Without these measures being instituted, ADOS are locked out of the country our ancestors built during chattel slavery. Without reforms through transformative government, we will be left to continue living a third world life in a first world country.

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