Focus: Food, Farming and Black Survival News Focus: Food, Farming & Black Survival

The Honorable Elijah Muhammad wrote on page 38 of Message to the Black Man:

“All of this is part of the clever plan to discourage my people from wanting to own producing land for themselves and to cause a great dislike within them for having anything to do with tilling, cultivating, extracting


and producing for themselves as other free and independent people. It is a shame! This shows you and I what White America is to us and just why we have not been able to do anything worthwhile for self. They want us to be helpless so they can mistreat us as always. We must come together and unite. It is time.”

From 1865 to 1910 Blacks had risen from slavery where they owned nothing to acquiring 16 million acres of land, mostly in the South. To stem this tide White merchants loaned seed and supplies at high interest rates (usury) to freed Blacks. Land was held as collateral and payments were accepted in cotton only. Black farmers were therefore forced to grow cotton to pay off their debts and had to reduce the production of food for themselves and the growing Black economy developing in small towns and cities in the South. Increased debt load plus a rash of lynching over the 30 year period from 1890 to 1920 effectively drove millions of Blacks off of their land in the South into the ghettoes of the North to work for the northern industrialists.

Investigations have shown that less than one-fifth of those Blacks who were lynched were even charged with rape, and even in those cases many were shown to be without foundation. Many times the charge was applied only after the lynching became publicized. Ida B. Wells-Barnett showed lynching to be a tool for terrorizing Blacks, repressing Black progress, and reestablishing White supremacy.

Evidence shows that Whites cried “rape” in areas where Blacks had gained a measure of political power through voting, but they found no “rape” where the Black vote had been thoroughly suppressed. Recent scholarship has correlated the periodic increases in lynching with the fluctuating price of cotton and other economic factors that distressed marginal White male farmers.

By 1900, these uninvestigated homicides against Blacks had reached the rate of 100 a year or once every three days. Many were well publicized and promoted like a sports event. The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, Volume 2 quotes the University of Alabama professor Clarence Cason as he describes why these southern Whites felt the civic necessity for the bloody spectacle:

“[T]his conviction that the Black man must now and then be intimidated, in order to keep him from forgetting the bounds which southern traditions have set for him, is firmly rooted in the consciousness of many southern people. So unquestioned is this philosophy that at times lynchings are planned and carried through–not under the fierce compulsion of mob hysteria–[but] by men who have calmly resigned themselves to the performance of a painful duty, which, according to their lights, is necessary for the good of society.”

Therefore to break the Blacks stride towards freedom the Whites lynched a few as an example for the rest. When cotton prices were high and Blacks that owned small parcels of land reached out to buy more, lynching increased. When cotton prices were low and the plantation owners had to squeeze more out of his near-slave labor, they would lynch a few Blacks as a warning to the rest. When jobs opened up in the North and Blacks began to migrate, Whites lynched a few Blacks on those trails toward the “Promised Land” to make others afraid to leave relative safety on the plantation. If a near-slave worker decided to leave and work for a better master, he was lynched as a warning to the others to stay put.

However, by 1910 Blacks still owned 16 million acres of land in spite of this mass violence that was not even illegal according to federal law. Up until the 1930s there was no federal law against lynching a Black person.

However, the Whites who still owned land needed labor which they no longer had or could trust. The U.S. government through research developed at the USDA and at colleges funded by USDA research grants began to invent labor saving equipment and chemicals to replace labor. To pay for this equipment and increased production costs the government made low interest loans available to White farmers and not Black farmers. Over time the Whites developed a competitive advantage that drove many more Black farmers off of their land and their children into the cities.

This depopulation of the countryside and reduction of Black wealth was not happening fast enough. So in 1962 the business mogul dominated Committee for Economic Development outlined what they called “An Adaptive Approach” in which they stated: “Net migration out of agriculture has been going on for 40 years, and at a rapid rate. Nevertheless, the movement of people from agriculture has not been fast enough…” This “adaptive approach” recommended that 1. Vocational agriculture courses in rural areas be scrapped, 2. Agricultural prices be substantially lowered and 3. Temporary income programs be instituted to protect the most “suited for survival.”

Of course the farmers “suited for survival” were mostly White. But now even the White farmers were finding it hard to stay on the land as the costs kept going up for their inputs but the prices remaining constant or even sometimes dropping for their outputs.

Over the 28 year period from 1969 to 1997 cost of fertilizer per acre had jumped from a little less than $10 per acre to over $30 per acre. Petroleum costs had gone up from about $8 per acre to over $20 per acre. Chemical costs had skyrocketed from about $4 per acre to over $24 per acre. And land rent had gone up from $12 per acre to almost $50 per acre. While the farm inputs had blown up, the price that the farmer receives for grain crops had stayed basically constant hovering between $3 and $4 per bushel. So the plan that the Committee for Economic Development put forward has been put into full affect. Farmers have faced a tremendous cost squeeze, even as they have been more productive on a per acre basis.

The government stepped in to give farm subsidies to selected farmers ranging from as low as $5 per acre to almost $140 per acre. Yield information was distorted at the USDA local offices to insure that Black farmers did not get government subsidies or insurance payments. On average from 1982 to 1992 White farmers received $1,023 per acre in farm subsidies, while Black farmers received only $274 per acre. Since farm land prices in the 1980s ran about $1,000 per acre, the USDA essentially helped White farmers to buy another acre for each acre they already had. And of course the land that they bought was the acreage of distressed Black farmers. So now Black farmers own less than 4 million acres of land, a mere one fourth of what they were able to amass by 1910, 65 years after slavery.

Over this same time period after the 1960s there was not only a great displacement of Black people from the farm to the cities, but how people got their food also changed. In 1970 out of the $75 billion that Americans spent on food, over half ($40 billion) went directly to the farmers. However, by 1998 Americans spent over $450 billion on food, while the farmers only received just over $100 billion for the raw product that went into that “food”. The American people began to eat less self-prepared food at home and more processed food or restaurant meals. In 1998 $100 billion dollars of American’s total food budget went to the fast-food industry.

The result has been a reduction in the overall health of Americans in general and Black people in particular. Whereas in the 1960s Black people were the healthiest ethnic group in America, now Blacks are the sickest. Most health specialists agree that the loss of health of Black people is directly related to the foods they consume. The loss of access to the land has resulted in a loss of health to the masses.

The latest government trick to continue the loss of Black farm land was the Pigford v. Glickman Black farmer lawsuit. The wording of the out of court settlement of this lawsuit was so distorted in favor of the government that even lead plaintiffs like Lucious Abrams pulled out of the lawsuit when he read the farmers’ lawyer, Al Pires, and Federal Judge Friedman’s out of court consent decree. Mr. Lucious Abrams, Waynesboro, GA, stated that his land had been in foreclosure for 10 years and he had not had a foreclosure hearing, which was his constitutional right. He also stated that he went to testify before Judge Friedman at the fairness hearing on the Pigford lawsuit. He told Judge Friedman that the consent decree was not worth the paper that it was written on and it did not represent the wishes of the lead plaintiffs.

The farmers did not go to court to get $50,000 but to save their land from foreclosure by the USDA. However, Judge Friedman, completely disregarded Mr. Abrams and the other 300 Black farmers at the “fairness hearings” as they complained against the “consent decree”.

So even after bringing the government to court in 1997 and proving that they were discriminated against by the USDA in terms of financial loans and government subsidies, only 10 percent of the 19,000 Black farmers on the books of the USDA were given any relief in the two Pigford Black farmer lawsuits. Even those who prevailed initially in the lawsuit and had their debts to the USDA cancelled, found themselves thrown off of their land by the USDA three years later, in spite of what was written, while the media turned the other way. As we write, the Native Americans and Hispanic Americans are receiving some measure of relief, but the Black farmers have been treated like criminals as they beg Congress to give back the land that was stolen from them by the government and families of USDA employees. In the meantime, White family farmers have been chosen to be next in the slaughter as they choose between leaving their farms or becoming sharecroppers for the Monsanto’s, DuPont’s, ADM’s and ConAgra’s of the New World Order.

(Dr. Ridgely A. Mu’min Muhammad, Agricultural Economist, National Student Minister of Agriculture, Manager of Muhammad Farms. He can be reached at [email protected].)