Black Farmers Critical to America's Past and Vital to America's Future
By Bruce LeVell
Voters often complain that policies are written in an ivory tower by lawmakers and bureaucrats without having any genuine conversation with the very people who the legislation will impact.
Concerned Communities for America is determined to have real conversations with Americans about challenging issues to hear what they propose as solutions. The ongoing series is called, Conversation with Black America. Over the last several months, we have had conversations about improving the economic environment for small business owners and protecting women from sex trafficking. These conversations have been emotional and result driven.
We recently hosted a round table in Georgia at the New Black Wall Street Market with Black farmers, Tyler Harper, the Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture and USDA lenders.
The goal of this round table was to inspire a new generation of farmers and to learn how we can create generational wealth in the Black community through farm ownership. We accomplished the mission on both fronts.
It is impossible not to be inspired when you hear the rich history of farmers whose families have provided harvest for the community for hundreds of years and played a critical role in the civil rights movement.
You could hear a pin drop as Eddie Slaughter, a farmer from Beuna Vista, Georgia, described the undeniable impact that Black farmers had during the Civil Rights movement. Slaughter told the story of when in 1962, Judge J. Robert Elliott, one of the most racist judges in the state, sat in a courtroom where hanging over his right shoulder was a picture of General Robert E Lee and hanging over his left shoulder the Confederate flag. For peacefully protesting, the judge planned to send Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Reidsville State Prison, one of the roughest prisons in the state. However, Black Farmers said that even if Dr. King was given a million-dollar bond, they had enough land to go to bond and bail. Dr. King was the most prominent leader that they helped, but Black farmers offered the financial backbone to help everyday people fight peacefully for justice.
We know that land ownership is one of the fasted ways to build wealth and great generational wealth. Black Americans make up less than five percent of the privately owned U.S. agricultural land. One solution is to protect the existing land and increase land ownership.
Commissioner Tyler Harper offered invaluable wisdom. Harper himself, a farmer, understands today's farming is more than "cows, plows and sows." He encouraged young people to look at the growing technology jobs critical to supporting the farming industry.
The Georgia Department of Agriculture's mission is "to maintain the state's viable farm industry and protect the consuming public." Black farmers are crucial to the success of the agency. As one farmer said during the conversation, Black farmers must apply for every grant, every job and every opportunity offered by the Department of Agriculture. In addition, we must become intimately familiar with the programs available and the people charged with administering the programs.
The opportunities within the department are diverse and spread across the state. The department is looking for everything from meat inspectors to chemical fertilizer analysts and administrative staff.
The Georgia Department of Agriculture also provides opportunities for young people. While the deadline has passed to apply for summer internships, we must be prepared to share these opportunities with young black students interested in careers in agriculture. They offer rich experiences in the Atlanta headquarters and the Tifton Laboratory.
We must continue to have conversations that lead to action like the one held at the New Black Wall Street Market. To join future conversations, visit concernedcommunities.org.