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Beyond Forty Acres and a Mule

African American Landowning Families since Reconstruction

Debra A. Reid

Publication Year: 2012

This collection chronicles the tumultuous history of landowning African American farmers from the end of the Civil War to today. Each essay provides a case study of people in one place at a particular time and the factors that affected their ability to acquire, secure, and protect their land.

The contributors walk readers through a century and a half of African American agricultural history, from the strivings of black farm owners in the immediate post-emancipation period to the efforts of contemporary black farm owners to receive justice through the courts for decades of discrimination by the U.S Department of Agriculture. They reveal that despite enormous obstacles, by 1920 a quarter of African American farm families owned their land, and demonstrate that farm ownership was not simply a departure point for black migrants seeking a better life but a core component of the African American experience.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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Title Page, Copyright

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List of Maps

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p. vii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-x

List of Tables

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p. xi

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pp. xiii-xiv

Considering the proliferation of scholarship on various aspects of the African American experience after slavery, it is surprising that comparatively little attention has been devoted to black farmers. Following Emancipation, as former slaves sought to adjust to their new life in freedom, the great...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xv-xviii

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pp. 1-18

John W. Boyd Jr., who founded the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) in 1995, described himself as a “fourth-generation black farmer” with roots in tobacco country. When not engrossed in his numerous duties as a nonprofit director and advocate for black farmers, he farms...

Part I. Historiography and Philosophy

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1. The Jim Crow Section of Agricultural History

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pp. 21-35

When news of Shirley Sherrod’s forced resignation broke, I was writing this essay, which relates to the underlying point of the speech that propelled her into the national spotlight. Sherrod was an anonymous political appointee, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s director for rural development...

Part II. Farm Acquisition and Retention

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2. Out of Mount Vernon’s Shadow: Black Landowners in George Washington’s Neighborhood, 1870–1930

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pp. 39-62

Three “farmers,” three life experiences: On September 24, 1894, black people lined the central streets of Alexandria, Virginia, to mark the anniversary of Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. As anticipated by the Washington Post, the “big military and industrial...

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3. James E. Youngblood: Race, Family, and Farm Ownership in Jim Crow Texas

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pp. 63-82

On June 4, 2009, at a ceremony held in Austin, Texas, with state Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples in attendance, eighty-six-year-old Eddie Lee Youngblood and her daughter Vicki Holmes joined members of seventy other families to receive recognition under the Texas Department...

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4. Benjamin Hubert and the Association for the Advancement of Negro Country Life

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pp. 83-105

Could African Americans have climbed to the middle class through agriculture? Since we know that black wealth today is largely urban, we assume that the answer is no. We know that the prevailing story recounts the tragedy of African American farmers in the South, a story...

Part III. Agrarianism and Black Politics

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5. Black Populism: Agrarian Politics from the Colored Alliance to the People’s Party

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pp. 109-131

Within a decade after the collapse of Reconstruction, an independent black agrarian movement—Black Populism—arose to challenge Democratic party rule in the South. Led primarily by black farmers, Black Populism was distinct from the white Populist movement of the same period...

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6. “The Lazarus of American Farmers”: The Politics of Black Agrarianism in the Jim Crow South, 1921–1938

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pp. 132-152

“Farmers skilled and trained at the calling” was the way a group of African American settlers in Kingfisher County, Oklahoma, described themselves in 1894. Claiming to be leaders of “that class of energetic, enthusiastic, frugal, industrious, and hard-working farming talent,” they had moved...

Part IV. Farm Families at Work

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7. Land Ownership and the Color Line: African American Farmers in the Heartland, 1870s–1920s

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pp. 155-178

John and his wife, Lillie, and their family ran away from a prominent slave-owning family in St. Charles, Missouri, in 1863. The fugitives boarded a northbound train that took them to East Dubuque, Illinois, a town at the juncture of three states, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. John and...

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8. Of the Quest of the Golden Leaf: Black Farmers and Bright Tobacco in the Piedmont South

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pp. 179-204

In the early autumn of 1939, photographer Marion Post and sociologist Margaret Jarman Hagood, rambling around the back roads of Orange County, North Carolina, stopped to talk to black farmers in Cedar Grove Township, northwest of Chapel Hill. No record of the conversation...

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9. “Justifiable Pride”: Negotiation and Collaboration in Florida African American Extension

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pp. 205-228

Amanda Parrish, Leon County’s African American home demonstration agent, recalled “Community Problems Handled” in her 1920 annual report. “The people wanted to know at first what was the use of joining the clubs,” she explained. That question was common where home extension was...

Part V. Legal Activism and Civil Rights Expansion

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10. Black Power in the Alabama Black Belt to the 1970s

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pp. 231-253

The Black Belt includes most of five Old South states, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. In 1900 nearly one-half of the entire U.S. African American population lived in this area. A concentration on one of these states, Alabama, and an analysis of African...

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11. “You’re just like mules, you don’t know your own strength”: Rural South Carolina Blacks and the Emergence of the Civil Rights Struggle

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pp. 254-270

Rural African Americans provided critical support during the civil rights movement. Fannie Lou Hamer and other Mississippians who participated in Freedom Summer and members of the Lowndes County Alabama Freedom Organization, which evolved into the Black Panther Party, provide...

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12. Between Forty Acres and a Class Action Lawsuit: Black Farmers, Civil Rights, and Protest against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1997–2010

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pp. 271-296

Black farmers historically have had a difficult relationship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) since 1862. Many believed that the U.S. government was going to play a major role in helping black families become independent landowners and farmers after slavery ended...

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Researching African American Land and Farm Owners: A Bibliographic Essay

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pp. 297-315

Color-conscious record keeping generated historical data that can make it easy to identify an individual by race, but other data systematically deemphasized African American achievements, particularly land ownership, thus veritably obliterating black landowning farmers from the historical record. For...

List of Contributors

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pp. 317-319


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pp. 321-350

E-ISBN-13: 9780813043531
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813039862
Print-ISBN-10: 081303986X

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 237 b&w illustrations, 8 tables, 3 maps
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 811507125
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Beyond Forty Acres and a Mule

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African American farmers -- History.
  • African Americans -- Land tenure -- History.
  • African American farmers -- Economic conditions.
  • African American farmers -- Political conditions.
  • Freedmen -- United States -- Economic conditions.
  • African American farmers -- Southern States -- History.
  • African Americans -- Land tenure -- Southern -- History.
  • African American farmers -- Southern States -- Economic conditions.
  • United States -- Race relations.
  • Southern States -- Race relations.
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