Racial Equity: NC Farmers & Their Land

— Written By

NC State University Chancellor Woodson recently stated that “We stand against and condemn white supremacy, racial injustice, and all forms of racism and discrimination.” Here at NC FarmLink we will focus on this topic with an upcoming new webpage on NC Farmland & Equity to share the facts on the history of farmland ownership by Black and African Americans in North Carolina. We hope this information will provide each and every one of you food for thought as you  consider what steps you can take – today, tomorrow, and beyond – to help move towards reconciling the differences and allowing us all to be better stewards of every acre of NC farmland.

But for the moment, leave it all behind for a minute or two and consider your own feelings or the feelings of someone you know, about land ownership in NC… how long it has been in the family, stories of financial hardship and family stress related to purchasing, maintaining, and growing your farm acres. How do you feel about keeping that land in the family going forward? The strong connections and emotions that you might have felt are healthy and likely typical for how any person might feel towards a treasured resource like land. After all, it can grow food and livestock to feed us, and it is an enduring asset that contributes to our cultural history all the while sustaining us from generation to generation. What a powerful feeling that can be. What a gift to steward land for future generations.

As a landowner, I feel the sentiments above on a daily basis. And I could never really imagine not having the right to purchase land. Yet, to understand issues of equity in farming, I often remind myself that Blacks and African Americans could not own land until after 1865, and even then, the social and political aspects of that era presented many hurdles for Blacks and African Americans to increase their assets, including land. The ability to purchase land requires sufficient assets to be considered as collateral for loans and Black and African American families did not have the same opportunities to build wealth as did others.

The history of discrimination experienced by Black and African American farmers continued for over 150 years and was documented by a USDA Rural Development Report titled Black Farmers in America, 1865-2000: The Pursuit of Independent Farming and the Role of Cooperatives. This document references the start of a USDA class-action lawsuit that “alleged that in many cases black farmers were turned away from obtaining loans needed to maintain ownership of land. In many instances, these lands had belonged for many decades to black family farmers (Pigford). Some individuals also experienced delays when trying to borrow to purchase lands from other black farmers, while credit for making such purchases were made available sooner to white farmers.” Participants in this lawsuit reached a settlement that was implemented via court actions from 2011 through 2016. Today, there are many programs that provide targeted support to historically underserved producers and progress has been made towards greater equity.

Back to the present…

When writing Grief, Anger, and Needed Change, NC State University Chancellor Woodson asked “all of us to fight for positive change powerfully, thoughtfully, and peacefully.” He added his encouragement for “each of us to embrace with humility that we all have more to learn as it relates to understanding our own places of prejudice and how we can strive to overcome how these impact our own actions.

In response to this call to action by Chancellor Woodson, NC  FarmLink will examine ways to enhance the services it provides to Black and African American producers, while continuing to provide a full range of assistance to all landowners and farm seekers. We begin with this news item and the forthcoming webpage on NC Farmland & Equity. We hope to learn together and share the facts about farmland equity in North Carolina. We welcome your feedback as we go forward together with the goal of farmland stewardship and working farmlands!