“Time For An Awakening” for Sunday 1/26/2020 our guest was Associate Professor of Political Science at Pennsylvania State University, Dr. Errol A. Henderson. Dr. Henderson discussed his latest work “The Revolution Will Not Theorized: Cultural Revolution In The Black Power Era” along with other related topics on the program.
Paul Leroy Robeson was an American bass-baritone concert artist, stage and film actor who became famous both for his cultural accomplishments and for his political activism. Educated at Rutgers College and Columbia University, he was also a star athlete in his youth. He also studied Swahili and linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London in 1934. His political activities began with his involvement with unemployed workers and anti-imperialist students whom he met in Britain and continued with support for the Loyalist cause in the Spanish Civil War and his opposition to fascism. In the United States, he also became active in the Civil Rights Movement and other social justice campaigns.
The Black Reality Think Tank radio program and our panel of community conversationalist will review the life, work, and times of this truly “Renaissance Man.”
The Great Land Robbery: The shameful story of how 1 million black families have been ripped from their farms
I. Wiped Out
“You ever chop before?” Willena Scott-White was testing me. I sat with her in the cab of a Chevy Silverado pickup truck, swatting at the squadrons of giant, fluttering mosquitoes that had invaded the interior the last time she opened a window. I was spending the day with her family as they worked their fields just outside Ruleville, in Mississippi’s Leflore County. With her weathered brown hands, Scott-White gave me a pork sandwich wrapped in a grease-stained paper towel. I slapped my leg. Mosquitoes can bite through denim, it turns out.
Cotton sowed with planters must be chopped—thinned and weeded manually with hoes—to produce orderly rows of fluffy bolls. The work is backbreaking, and the people who do it maintain that no other job on Earth is quite as demanding. I had labored long hours over other crops, but had to admit to Scott-White, a 60-something grandmother who’d grown up chopping, that I’d never done it.
“Then you ain’t never worked,” she replied.
The fields alongside us as we drove were monotonous. With row crops, monotony is good. But as we toured 1,000 acres of land in Leflore and Bolivar Counties, straddling Route 61, Scott-White pointed out the demarcations between plots. A trio of steel silos here. A post there. A patch of scruffy wilderness in the distance. Each landmark was a reminder of the Scott legacy that she had fought to keep—or to regain—and she noted this with pride. Each one was also a reminder of an inheritance that had once been stolen.
Drive Route 61 through the Mississippi Delta and you’ll find much of the scenery exactly as it was 50 or 75 years ago. Imposing plantations and ramshackle shotgun houses still populate the countryside from Memphis to Vicksburg. Fields stretch to the horizon. The hands that dig into black Delta dirt belong to people like Willena Scott-White, African Americans who bear faces and names passed down from men and women who were owned here, who were kept here, and who chose to stay here, tending the same fields their forebears tended.
But some things have changed. Back in the day, snow-white bolls of King Cotton reigned. Now much of the land is green with soybeans. The farms and plantations are much larger—industrial operations with bioengineered plants, laser-guided tractors, and crop-dusting drones. Fewer and fewer farms are still owned by actual farmers. Investors in boardrooms throughout the country have bought hundreds of thousands of acres of premium Delta land. If you’re one of the millions of people who have a retirement account with the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, for instance, you might even own a little bit yourself.
A war waged by deed of title has dispossessed 98 percent of black agricultural landowners in America.
TIAA is one of the largest pension firms in the United States. Together with its subsidiaries and associated funds, it has a portfolio of more than 80,000 acres in Mississippi alone, most of them in the Delta. If the fertile crescent of Arkansas is included, TIAA holds more than 130,000 acres in a strip of counties along the Mississippi River. And TIAA is not the only big corporate landlord in the region. Hancock Agricultural Investment Group manages more than 65,000 acres in what it calls the “Delta states.” The real-estate trust Farmland Partners has 30,000 acres in and around the Delta. AgriVest, a subsidiary of the Swiss bank UBS, owned 22,000 acres as of 2011. (AgriVest did not respond to a request for more recent information.)
Unlike their counterparts even two or three generations ago, black people living and working in the Delta today have been almost completely uprooted from the soil—as property owners, if not as laborers. In Washington County, Mississippi, where last February TIAA reportedly bought 50,000 acres for more than $200 million, black people make up 72 percent of the population but own only 11 percent of the farmland, in part or in full. In Tunica County, where TIAA has acquired plantations from some of the oldest farm-owning white families in the state, black people make up 77 percent of the population but own only 6 percent of the farmland. In Holmes County, the third-blackest county in the nation, black people make up about 80 percent of the population but own only 19 percent of the farmland. TIAA owns plantations there, too. In just a few years, a single company has accumulated a portfolio in the Delta almost equal to the remaining holdings of the African Americans who have lived on and shaped this land for centuries.
This is not a story about TIAA—at least not primarily. The company’s newfound dominance in the region is merely the topsoil covering a history of loss and legally sanctioned theft in which TIAA played no part. But TIAA’s position is instrumental in understanding both how the crimes of Jim Crow have been laundered by time and how the legacy of ill-gotten gains has become a structural part of American life. The land was wrested first from Native Americans, by force. It was then cleared, watered, and made productive for intensive agriculture by the labor of enslaved Africans, who after Emancipation would come to own a portion of it. Later, through a variety of means—sometimes legal, often coercive, in many cases legal and coercive, occasionally violent—farmland owned by black people came into the hands of white people. It was aggregated into larger holdings, then aggregated again, eventually attracting the interest of Wall Street.
Owners of small farms everywhere, black and white alike, have long been buffeted by larger economic forces. But what happened to black landowners in the South, and particularly in the Delta, is distinct, and was propelled not only by economic change but also by white racism and local white power. A war waged by deed of title has dispossessed 98 percent of black agricultural landowners in America. They have lost 12 million acres over the past century. But even that statement falsely consigns the losses to long-ago history. In fact, the losses mostly occurred within living memory, from the 1950s onward. Today, except for a handful of farmers like the Scotts who have been able to keep or get back some land, black people in this most productive corner of the Deep South own almost nothing of the bounty under their feet.
II. “Land Hunger”
Land has always been the main battleground of racial conflict in Mississippi. During Reconstruction, fierce resistance from the planters who had dominated antebellum society effectively killed any promise of land or protection from the Freedmen’s Bureau, forcing masses of black laborers back into de facto bondage. But the sheer size of the black population—black people were a majority in Mississippi until the 1930s—meant that thousands were able to secure tenuous footholds as landowners between Emancipation and the Great Depression.
Driven by what W. E. B. Du Bois called “land hunger” among freedmen during Reconstruction, two generations of black workers squirreled away money and went after every available and affordable plot they could, no matter how marginal or hopeless. Some found sympathetic white landowners who would sell to them. Some squatted on unused land or acquired the few homesteads available to black people. Some followed visionary leaders to all-black utopian agrarian experiments, such as Mound Bayou, in Bolivar County.
It was never much, and it was never close to just, but by the early 20th century, black people had something to hold on to. In 1900, according to the historian James C. Cobb, black landowners in Tunica County outnumbered white ones three to one. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there were 25,000 black farm operators in 1910, an increase of almost 20 percent from 1900. Black farmland in Mississippi totaled 2.2 million acres in 1910—some 14 percent of all black-owned agricultural land in the country, and the most of any state.
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. 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 200-acre farm from his former overseer. 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 1880s, Spearman, over his head in debt, crashed with it.
Around the turn of the century, in Leflore County, a black farm organizer and proponent of self-sufficiency—referred to as a “notoriously bad Negro” in the local newspapers—led a black populist awakening, marching defiantly and by some accounts bringing boycotts against white merchants. White farmers responded with a posse that may have killed as many as 100 black farmers and sharecroppers along with women and children. The fate of the “bad Negro” in question, named Oliver Cromwell, is uncertain. Some sources say he escaped to Jackson, and into anonymity.
Like so many of his forebears, Ed Scott Sr., Willena Scott-White’s grandfather, acquired his land through not much more than force of will. 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 1886 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, who owned a 7,000-acre plantation in Mississippi’s Leflore and Sunflower Counties. 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 100 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. And unlike Oliver Cromwell, he led his community under the rules already in place, appearing content with what he’d earned for his family in an environment of total segregation. He leveraged technical skills and a talent for management to impress sympathetic white people and disarm hostile ones. “Granddaddy always had nice vehicles,” Scott-White told me. 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 1957, he had amassed more than 1,000 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. “Mr. Brooks sold all of the land on the east side of this river to black folks,” Scott-White told me. She swept her arm to encompass the endless acres. “All of these were once owned by black families.”
III. The Great Dispossession
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 1950. Joe Brooks, the former president of the Emergency Land Fund, a group founded in 1972 to fight the problem of dispossession, has estimated that something on the order of 6 million acres was lost by black farmers from 1950 to 1969. That’s an average of 820 acres a day—an area the size of New York’s Central Park erased with each sunset. Black-owned cotton farms in the South almost completely disappeared, diminishing from 87,000 to just over 3,000 in the 1960s alone. According to the Census of Agriculture, the racial disparity in farm acreage increased in Mississippi from 1950 to 1964, when black farmers lost almost 800,000 acres of land. An analysis for The Atlantic by a research team that included Dania Francis, at the University of Massachusetts, and Darrick Hamilton, at Ohio State, translates this land loss into a financial loss—including both property and income—of $3.7 billion to $6.6 billion in today’s dollars.
This was a silent and devastating catastrophe, one created and maintained by federal policy. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal life raft for agriculture helped start the trend in 1937 with the establishment of the Farm Security Administration, an agency within the Department of Agriculture. Although the FSA ostensibly existed to help the country’s small farmers, as happened with much of the rest of the New Deal, white administrators often ignored or targeted poor black people—denying them loans and giving sharecropping work to white people. After Roosevelt’s death, in 1945, conservatives in Congress replaced the FSA with the Farmers Home Administration, or FmHA. The FmHA quickly transformed the FSA’s programs for small farmers, establishing the sinews of the loan-and-subsidy structure that undergirds American agriculture today. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy’s administration created the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, or ASCS, a complementary program to the FmHA that also provided loans to farmers. 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. In his book Dispossession, Daniel calls the setup “agrigovernment.” Land-grant universities pumped out both farm operators and the USDA agents who connected those operators to federal money. 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.
The #BankBlack revolution has already began. Thousands of African Americans across the country are transferring their money to Black-owned banks that invest in urban communities and businesses. Initiated by several celebrities like Solange and rapper Killer Mike, the initiative is in response to years of police brutality, discrimination, and other racial problems that have long existed in America.
African Americans collectively have an annual buying power of almost $1 trillion dollars, and so the idea is to circulate and re-circulate Black dollars within Black communities.
If you are interested in opening an account at a Black-owned, FDIC-insured bank, here’s the complete list below according to FederalReserve.gov:
#1 – Alamerica Bank: This bank in Birmingham, Alabama provides a unique banking experience for underserved communities. Their staff of experienced bankers is committed to providing quality and personalized service, offering a full array of banking services, from deposit accounts to loans.
#2 – Commonwealth National Bank: At this bank in Mobile, Alabama, they believe that your business is unique and so your bank should be too. They offer free online banking with no minimum daily balance required, and a variety of business accounts designed to help you maximize your banking experience.
(Also see #11 – Liberty Bank, which has branch locations in Tuskegee and Montgomery, AL.)
#3 – Broadway Federal Bank: Based in Los Angeles, California, this Black-owned bank aims to serve the real estate business and financial needs in underserved urban communities. They especially aim to meet the needs of minority consumers who want to take out conventional loans.
(Also see #13 – One United Bank, which has branch locations in Compton and Los Angeles, CA.)
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (WASHINGTON, DC)
#4 – Industrial Bank: Headquarted in Washington, DC with branch locations in Oxon Hill and Forestville, MD, this bank has delivered essential banking and financial services since 1934 that have contributed greatly to the growth and development of the local Black community.
#5 – Axiom Bank: Headquartered in Central Florida with branches throughout the Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tampa areas, this federally-chartered community bank serves the financial needs of its customers through a wide range of financial products. They provide retail banking services, including checking, deposit, and money market accounts, through 20 branch locations, 19 of which are inside select Walmart Supercenters. (Note: This bank was Black-owned for many years as Urban Trust Bank, and even earlier as Metro Savings Bank. Although they are no longer Black-owned, they are a solid, growing community bank that supports urban communities.)
(Also see #13 – One United Bank, which has branch locations in Miami, FL.)
#6 – Carver State Bank: Established in 1927 in Savannah, Georgia, this Black-owned bank has has remained a financial services leader for all sectors of the Savannah community throughout its 85 years and is the only bank in the area with an outstanding Community Reinvestment Act Rating.
#7 – Citizens Trust Bank: Since their beginning in 1921, this Atlanta, GA-based bank has responded to market shifts by expanding their electronic platform while still providing the personal touch service that makes them unique to their customers. Thanks to an online #BankBlack social media campaign in July 2016, more than 8,000 new accounts were opened at their branch in just one week.
#8 – Illinois Service Federal Bank: Based in Chicago, this bank aims to be a viable, growing, community development financial services institution responding innovatively to their primarily underserved and minority constituency with superb customer service.
#9 – Seaway Bank & Trust Company: This Chicago-based community bank serves families, non-profits and businesses in diverse neighborhoods. It was established in 1965 to counter discriminatory lending practices and is now recognized as one of the nation’s largest minority-owned banks, with more than $400 million in assets and 240 employees.
(Also, see #11 – Liberty Bank, which has branch locations in Chicago, IL.)
(See #11 – Liberty Bank, which has branch locations in Kansas City, KS.)
#10 – Metro Bank: Based in Louisville, Kentucky, this Black-owned bank works to provide opportunity where before there was none – whether it is their involvement in a multi-million dollar New Markets Tax Credit project, or a start-up business loan to an entrepreneur providing a much-needed service in an underserved neighborhood.
#11 – Liberty Bank: Primarily based in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this bank has a sincere focus on service, integrity and a sincere interest in community and business development. Over the past four decades, they have also expanded to more than 18 branches in six states – including Kansas, Mississippi, Michigan, Missouri, Alabama, and Illinois.
#12 – Harbor Bank of Maryland: Opening its doors in 1982, this bank primarily serves the Baltimore metropolitan area, and offers checking, savings, time deposits, credit cards, debit card, commercial real estate, personal, home improvement, automobile, and other installment and term loans. They also have a branch in Riverdale, MD, PG County.
(Also, see #4 – Industrial Bank, which has branch locations in Oxon Hill and Forestville, MD.)
#13 – One United Bank: The first Black internet bank and the largest Black-owned bank in the country, with offices in Los Angeles, Boston and Miami. They were awarded the highest Bank Enterprise Award by the U.S. Department of Treasury for their community development lending ten times, and they are a designated Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).
#14 – First Independence Bank: Based in Detroit, this bank was established in the 1970’s to serve the financial needs of the urban community, its businesses, and its citizens. They say that no line of financial services is beyond their charter as long as they are serving the financial needs of businesses and families in the Black community.
(Also, see #11 – Liberty Bank, which has branch locations in Detroit, MI.)
(See #11 – Liberty Bank, which has branch locations in Jackson, MS.)
(See #11 – Liberty Bank, which has branch locations in St. Louis, MO.)
#15 – City National Bank: Primarily based in Newark, NJ with branch locations in Harlem and Brooklyn, NYC, this Black-owned bank plays a pivotal role in strengthening urban communities. They call themselves a forward-thinking financial institution whose mission is to build economic strength and improve the quality of life within urban communities by providing the highest quality financial services, including low-cost business loans.
(See #15 – City National Bank, which has branch locations in Harlem and Brooklyn, NY.)
#16 – Mechanics & Farmers Bank: Founded in 1907, this bank is the 2nd oldest minority-owned bank in the United States. They have branches in Winston-Salem, Durham, Raleigh, Greensboro, and Charlotte, and most of their deposits are recycled back into urban communities.
#17 – United Bank of Philadelphia: Based in the city of Philadelphia, this Black-owned bank says that all deposits stay right in the community in a cycle of community, inclusivity, and opportunity. They offer affordable banking services to individuals, families, small businesses, and non-profit organizations.
#18 – South Carolina Community Bank: Based in Columbia, SC, this Black-controlled bank offers a select range of high priority personalized products and services to traditionally underserved communities, including small to medium sized businesses,
#19 – Citizens Savings Bank and Trust Company: With branch locations in Nashville and Memphis, TN, this community bank provides friendly and personal service to both individuals and small businesses. They are an equal opportunity employer with 32 full-time employees, 3 convenient offices and approximately $100 million in total assets.
#20 – Tri-State Bank of Memphis: With three branch locations throughout the Memphis area, this a community bank has proudly served the urban community for over 65 years and have a history of leadership, concern and commitment.
#21 – Unity National Bank: Based in Houston, Texas, with a branch also in Missouri City, this Black-owned bank creates opportunities to help people and businesses grow and enhance the quality of life. They do that through service and services that respect their time, make banking easier and keep them financially competitive.
#22 – First State Bank: Chartered in 1919 in Danville, VA, this locally-owned and operated bank provides the personal touch to banking services. From checking and savings products to loans and other financial investments, they offer a variety of options to fit your needs.
#23 – Columbia Savings & Loan Association: Based in Milwaukee, WI, this is the oldest Black-owned financial institution in the state, and they have been serving commercial and individual accounts to urban customers since 1924. They offer checking accounts, and consumer and business loans.
Host, William Rogers
HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY OF BLACK FACE IN AMERICA
There is a brief delay at the beginning of the broadcast.
What is it about “blackface” that feeds the soul and spirit of White America? What ethical and moral platform supports this behavior.
The Black Reality Think Tank will discuss many of the racial innuendoes underpinning the practice of “blackface.”
In commemoration of Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s vision to always remember our ancestors, The Black Reality Think Tank radio program welcomes author and literary consultant Ms. Heddy Keith to our broadcast as we discuss the life and work of Dr. Toni Morrison.
Chloe Anthony Wofford Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford; (February 18, 1931 – August 5, 2019), known as Toni Morrison, was an American novelist, essayist, book editor, and college professor. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. The critically acclaimed Song of Solomon (1977) brought her national attention and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1988, Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved (1987); she gained worldwide recognition when she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.
Our guest and community panel will discuss how Dr. Morrison used fiction to highlight the historical journey of African people in America.
Dr. William Rogers is the host.