In studying the history of Black land ownership, I became fascinated with the 45-year period after slavery when Black people amassed over 16 million acres of land. Most of the land was in what is called the “Black Belt.”
Nearly 30 percent of the farm land in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Arkansas were owned by Blacks in 1910. Nearly 50 percent of the farm land in Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia was owned by Blacks. Nearly 50 percent of the farm land was owned by Blacks in South Carolina, while over 60 percent of the farm land Mississippi was Black-owned. These nine contiguous states would have been a good base for economic development of the Black race in the early 1900s. Add to this the schools, hospitals, insurance companies and other institutions which Blacks had produced in this Black Belt region, you have the beginning of a viable nation within a nation.
Blacks were sold out by the Republican Party after the 1876 elections, which is known as the Hayes Compromise. Subsequently, the Northern troops were pulled out of the South allowing the Ku Klux Klan to have its way with Blacks. A string of crucifixions called “lynching” reached a crescendo by the 1890s, terrorizing Black people literally out of their minds. Between 1889 and 1930, records show at least 3,000 Blacks were lynched, some specifically targeted because they owned land or had businesses. All attempts of passing anti-lynching legislation failed as the federal government sat holding its hand.
In 1910, about 90 percent of Blacks lived in the South, but large numbers began migrating north looking for better job opportunities and living conditions, and to escape racial violence. The “Great Migration,” as it was called, spanned the 1890s to the 1970s. From 1916 through the 1960s, more than 6 million Black people moved north. By 1970, only 53 percent of Blacks lived in the South. But in the 1970s and 1980s, that trend reversed, with more Blacks moving south than leaving it. From 1975 to 1980, the South gained a net of 194,000 Blacks through migration. And the trend continued through the year 2000. From 1990 to 2000, over 500,000 Blacks migrated back to the South. Most of our 3 million acres of Black-owned farmland is still in the South.
Blacks moving back to the South generally had higher occupational and educational status than non-migrants. On average, their incomes were higher than those of the overall Black population of the South. Unlike the previous migration from south to north, which included many agricultural workers, the net migration rates for those Blacks with college degrees–or with at least some college–were higher than for those with lower levels of education, according to the article “Southern Brain Gain” on www.inmotionaame.org.
Presently, 50.5 percent of Blacks moving south have a college education. Some southern states have indeed experienced a “brain gain,” attracting thousands of Black college graduates. Between 1995 and 2000, Georgia (Atlanta, in particular), Texas, and Maryland had a particularly large influx of college-educated Blacks.
Although the reasons are well understood as to why Blacks left the South from 1910 to the 1960s, the factors that are stimulating the reversal of this trend must be investigated to determine if this migration home to the South, and more importantly to the land, will continue. Sometimes anecdotal information or personal experiences can give clues as to which factors should be further evaluated in a quantitative and statistical manner. I take myself as an example. Interestingly, I left the South in 1966 with a scholarship to prep school in New England feeling that I was going places in the mainstream of America. I subsequently went to Columbia University in New York, but when I joined the Nation of Islam in 1971 in New York City, I transferred to a Historically Black College back in North Carolina. The Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad reversed my desire to fit into or change White America. Instead, the Teachings gave me a feeling of confidence that I could separate from White America and do something for myself and people.
So I went back home to North Carolina and enrolled in a Black college hoping to awaken more of my colleagues, family and friends to the prospect of economic independence and separation. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad also taught that agriculture was the root of civilization. Therefore, I subsequently changed my major in college to agricultural economics.
If we look at the history of the development of the Nation of Islam, we can see some interesting features that at one level were a result of the Great Migration to the North, while at the same time the Nation of Islam was developing a mindset in the children of those immigrants that could lead to a return home to the South.
The Founder of the Nation of Islam, Master Fard Muhammad, started teaching in Black Bottom Detroit in 1930 to a people ripened by the 40 years of lynching and brutality that led them to the northern cities. It is reported that as many as 25,000 Blacks were directly affected by the Teachings of Master Fard Muhammad in Detroit from 1930 to 1934. One of those affected was Elijah Poole, soon to be Elijah Muhammad, who had fled the South in 1923 specifically to get away from the lynching and brutality in Georgia.
The Nation of Islam grew first in the cities outside of the South and especially the North. According to a list of numbered Muhammad Temples of Islam in the October 4, 1974 Muhammad Speaks newspaper, of the 75 temples established by that time, 53 or 70.7 percent were outside of the South, although at this time still 53 percent of the Blacks still lived in the South. If we break these figures apart, we find that of the first 40 temples established, 29 temples, (85 percent) were outside of the South. However, of the last 35, 16 temples (45.7 percent) were established in the South. Over time it seems that the South was becoming a more fertile bed for the establishment of Islam. The question is, was this due to a change in the racial climate of the South or, the affects of the Muslims from the North migrating back to the South?
As stated earlier, the reversal of the out migration of Blacks from the South began in the 1970s and continued at a faster pace through the year 2000. Adding to this trend, the Nation of Islam purchased in 1994 1,600 acres of a 4,500 acre farm previously owned by the Nation of Islam prior to the departure of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad in 1975. Such a move could stimulate the potential in a renewed interest in Blacks to come all the way home to the land. In fact, we recently attended a family and friends’ reunion or a homecoming in Dublin, Ga. sponsored by Brother Willie Muhammad who is just one of these returning immigrants.
Brother Willie migrated to Plainfield, N.J. 42 years ago where he subsequently joined the Nation of Islam. After hearing a speech by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan in 1992, Brother Willie visited Georgia and began the process of purchasing a home on 35 acres of land outside of his native home of Dublin, Ga. It took him 15 years to pay off the mortgage, sell his businesses in New Jersey and make his permanent trip home.
At the homecoming or house warming event that he and his wife, Sister Jennifer, sponsored on Labor Day weekend of this year were a number of other “X”-northerners who had joined the Nation of Islam and were now buying land and properties in the rural South, reversing the trend of fleeing north to the cities. Will this trend of Blacks coming all the way home continue? We will see. And how does one find the “useful land”?
(Dr. Ridgely Abdul Mu’min Muhammad is the Nation of Islam’s Minister of Agriculture, who serves as the farm manager of a 1,600-acre farm in southwest Georgia owned by the Nation of Islam. For more information, visit www.muhammadfarms.com or email drridge @ bellsouth.net.)