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The Justice for Black Farmers Act: Giveaway or Gotcha?

Branden Janese
Dec 15, 2020 - 11:43

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The Justice for Black Farmers Act is a new piece of legislation sponsored by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). The bill has a long list of endorsements from organizations like the National Farmers Union and Soul Fire Farm Institute, Inc. and has well-known and well-respected co-sponsors like Senators Elizabeth Warren  (D-Mass.) and Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY.).

Senator Booker spoke to Mother Jones about the bill’s aim at ending deep-rooted injustices in the agriculture industry. Booker said the “equitable balancing of the scales after decades of systematic racism within the USDA that disadvantaged Black farmers, excluded them from loans and other programs, [and] prevented them from holding on to their land.” 

One of the biggest takeaways is that the Justice for Black Farmers Act has a land grant program that is not only limited to farmers but for any qualified Black American to receive 160 acres of land at no cost. 

It sounds like a giveaway too good to be true.

However, this idea of granting land under government order is not new at all. In 1850, Congress passed the Land Donation Claim Act that granted white settlers free land to build on, live rent-free and cultivate crops. In turn, the west as we know it was built. 

In 1861 and 1862, the United States government passed the Morrill and Homestead Acts, which granted land to white Americans. The Morrill Act built agricultural colleges and the Homestead Acts helped poor farmers in need of land to cultivate.
The only stipulation was that you had to be white.

Today, white people own over 97 percent of rural farming land. Land that Black Americans cultivated as enslaved people. Land that was given to Black farmers, skilled Black farmers, after the Civil War. Land that was taken back almost immediately.

Black Americans who survived the Civil War had nothing to their names the day after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. In 1865, a  field order was signed by General William Sherman, and 40 acres on the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas was supposed to go to recently freed Black Americans. However, the order was overturned by President Andrew Jackson and the land was given back to the planters who owned it before the Civil War.  

Now, the Justice for Black farmers act is a re-do and an attempt to give back land that was taken from Black Americans. However, the question that remains unanswered is: If it didn’t work then, why will it work now?


Title II, Section 203 of the Justice for Black Farmers Act vs. The Homestead Act of 1862

Sec.203.Provision of land grants, 2020,

  • The USDA Secretary shall purchase from willing sellers at fair market value available agricultural land in the United States and convey grants of that land of up to 160 acres to eligible Black individuals at no cost.

Signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862,

  • the Homestead Act encouraged Western migration by providing settlers 160 acres of public land. In exchange, homesteaders paid a small filing fee and were required to complete five years of continuous residence before receiving ownership of the land.

I host a podcast called Sick Empire. In the latest episode, In the Black: Economic Wellness and the Pressures of Money, I explore the health of Black wealth with an in-depth interview with two financial advisors Tiffany Hawkins and Allan Boomer. Tiffany said something during our interview that really resonated with me and explains why the push back from white America is so strong when it comes to Black folks creating individual and generational wealth. When talking about the concept of economic freedom as a revolutionary act, Tiffany said: 

“There isn’t anything that black people haven’t got when black people get involved in something. We usually take it over. We usually Excel there isn’t any industry in any capacity that we haven’t gotten involved in that we do not make in progress extremely fast.”

I believe this statement about Black excellence is the reason so many white people are hyper concerned with controlling Black finances. We saw what happened in Tulsa, OK, in the 20th century when Black Wall Street was booming. The entire city was touched because of economic jealousy. 

Branden Janese retells the story of Black Wall Street

Hell, if I was white, I’d be confused at Black excellence too. From enslaved people to free Blacks. From sharecroppers to shareholders. From domestic workers to Michelle Obamas. From niggas to Gods.

It’s a mindfuck, alright. 

The hope that Black people gain some of that land that we have our roots in lies in the language of the Justice for Black Farmers Act. It’s a fuzzy moment for me, one that is blurred by confidence in Black excellence and deep-rooted dispirit. If granted land, Black folks will reunite with our ancestral roots and gain an economic advantage. However, I’ve lived through too much disappointment to trust any bill written in favor of Black people.

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