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In 1870, only around 30,000 African Americans in the South owned land (usually small plots), compared with 4 million others who did not.

 

In 2012, the number of black farmers in the United States was 44,629. This was a 12 percent increase percent since 2007, when the last agriculture census was conducted.

That number is up 12 percent since 2007; most live in southern states.

Nationally, black farmers were 1.4 percent of the country’s 3.2 million farmers in 2012.

Ninety percent lived in twelve southern states.

Texas has more black farmers than any other state, but they make up only 3 percent of the state’s total farmers.

Freestone County, Texas, had more black farmers than any other county.

Black farmers make up a larger share of total farmers in Mississippi (12%), Louisiana (7%), South Carolina (7%), Alabama (6%), and Georgia (4%).

The 33,371 Black farms combined for an economic impact of $846 million in agricultural products and operated 3.6 million acres of farmland.

Hands Holding Soil — Image by © L. Clarke/Corbis

History’s “Smoke and Mirrors” about Early Black Landownership

With the southern economy in disarray after the abolition of slavery and the devastation of the Civil War, conflict arose between many white landowners attempting to reestablish a labor force and freed blacks seeking economic independence and autonomy. Many former slaves expected the federal government to give them a certain amount of land as compensation for all the work they had done during the slavery era. Union General William T. Sherman had encouraged this expectation in early 1865 by granting a number of freed men 40 acres each of the abandoned land left in the wake of his army. During Reconstruction, however, the conflict over labor resulted in the sharecropping system, in which black families would rent small plots of land in return for a portion of their crop, to be given to the landowner at the end of each year.

During the final months of the Civil War, tens of thousands of freed slaves left their plantations to follow General William T. Sherman’s victorious Union Army troops across Georgia and the Carolinas.

In January 1865, in an effort to address the issues caused by this growing number of refugees, Sherman issued Special Field Order Number 15, a temporary plan granting each freed family 40 acres of land on the islands and coastal region of Georgia. The Union Army also donated some of its mules, unneeded for battle purposes, to the former slaves.

When the war ended three months later, many freed African Americans saw the “40 acres and a mule” policy as proof that they would finally be able to work their own land after years of servitude.

Instead, as one of the first acts of Reconstruction President Andrew Jackson ordered all land under federal control to be returned to its previous owners in the summer of 1865.

The Freedmen’s Bureau, created to aid millions of former slaves in the postwar era, had to inform the freedmen and women that they could either sign labor contracts with planters or be evicted from the land they had occupied.

Those who refused or resisted were eventually forced out by army troops.

Even now, Owning land is the key to economic independence and autonomy.

 

Source: History.com; United States Department of Agriculture

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