The Decline (and Revival?) of Black Farmers and Rural Landowners: A Review of the Research Literature


The African-American farmer is a rare breed in the United States. The loss of landownership and farming operations has contributed to the poverty of many rural communities in the South, where almost all remaining black farmers live. Since about 1970 the research literature on this issue has blossomed. One of the commonalities found in the literature is the sense of hopelessness in
stemming the tide of black land loss. Indeed, an oft-cited prediction in earlier works was that there would be no black farmers in the United States by the year 2000. On the other hand, another commonality in the literature is the view that the black farmer and rural landowner must be sustained, even brought back.

Among the several reasons for the decline in the number of African-American farmers is that young people are not entering the field to replace the  increasingly elderly population of existing black farmers. Farming is not exactly glamorous work. It is likely that younger generations are put off by the communal memory of slavery and sharecropping. In addition, Civil Rights and Affirmative Action policies have allowed young black men and women to aspire to professional careers once closed off to them. Why then do some argue for young people to enter farming and for older people to remain or return to farming? They could instead, for example, encourage the improvement of poor rural communities through education, training, and
economic development. The first answer is that both of these remedies are recommended; they are not mutually exclusive. The second answer is that farming is no longer a toiling-behind-a-mule-and-a-plow venture but rather a technical and managerial occupation—one which, despite many odds, some
African-Americans choose. Finally, agriculture and landownership offer more than just economic benefits to rural black communities.

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