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Resource: Black Land Loss

Black land loss in the United States refers to the loss of land ownership and rights by Black families and farmers residing or farming in the United States.

Contributors to Black Land Loss

  • Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves but did not provide the right to own land
  • After the Civil War, some states passed laws prohibiting persons of color from owning real property
  • Lack of documentation (such as birth certificate) commonly used to prove identity in legal transactions–a common situation after the Civil War
  • Land promised to freed blacks through the Freedmen’s Bureau was ultimately returned to original white owners of the land
  • Lack of legal wills allowing black property owners to pass land to descendants and thereby build wealth
  • Morill Act of 1862 offered land to whites-only colleges that taught agriculture and mechanical courses
  • Homestead Act of 1862 restricted acquisition of land in the West to whites only
  • Jim Crow policies that allowed separate treatment of whites and blacks
  • Racist implementation of the GI Bill – white veterans obtained low interest loans for homes and tuition benefits for college education; Black veterans were funneled into vocational education programs and few received home loans
  • Racist farm lending by the USDA that denied Black farmers from credit to operate, improve and expand farms.
  • Sharecropping became a common practice where tenants were charged high interests rates that created inescapable debt
  • Crop lien system
  • Heirs property laws – all descendents of owners have a share in the land and must consent to sales
  • Partition sales/Torrens Laws – system of officially registering ownership of land with the government; enables forced sale of land
  • Redlining, which is a practice where black people were only allowed to live in certain areas and then allowed to obtain loans to improve property – contributing to neighborhood decline
  • Gentrification




Laura Flanders Show: A look at the historical and present-day connections between democracy, land, housing and economic development. The history of the US is packed with people of color and poor people who’ve been stripped of their rights – to vote, to wages, to housing or even just the right to stay in the country – through incarceration, segregation, slavery and deportation. For just as long, black communities have created safety, and won a say in democracy, through buying and keeping land cooperatively. It’s not just history, either. Mark Scott is an organizer of #blacklandmatters, a group working today, and Tia Powell Harris is the director of the Weeksville Heritage Center, Brooklyn’s largest African-American cultural institution, which is dedicated to preserving the history of the 19th century African American community of Weeksville – one of America’s first free black communities. We also look at Working World – an organization dedicated to supporting worker-owned cooperatives around the US.

Savi Horne, Executive Director of the Land Loss Prevention Project (LLPP), discusses the organization’s history and efforts to help North Carolina’s financially distressed farmers. The Land Loss Prevention Project (LLPP) was founded in 1982 by the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers to stop epidemic losses of Black owned land in North Carolina. The organization broadened its mission in 1993 to provide legal support and assistance to all financially distressed and limited resource farmers and landowners in North Carolina. The LLPP is unique in that it is the only non-profit law firm in the state as well as the country that provides both expansive direct legal assistance to farmers and landowners in a variety of practice areas while maintaining a focus on agricultural law. The LLPP is distinguished in the state’s legal community by its 30 years of expertise in farm credit programs and farm foreclosure, farm related federal bankruptcy law and agriculture-based business development law and finance. The organization provides essential legal services to the state’s agriculture community. LLPP’s advocacy also includes work on public policy and promoting sustainable agriculture and environment. On the public policy front, LLPP monitors agricultural policy and the impact it has on North Carolina’s small family farmers. Finally, LLPP helps family farmers and landowners develop sustainable agricultural practices that are environmentally friendly and economically viable for their rural communities. We spoke with Savi Horne, executive director of LLPP, about why their work is so important and how crucial it is that minority and limited resource farmers be able to access the opportunity the Good Food Movement represents.

Veteran broadcast journalist Kathy Andrews talks with community leaders about development on Hilton Head Island and land loss among native islanders.

Veteran broadcaster Kathy Andrews talks with residents of Charleston South Carolina about the plight of a 130 year old African American cemetery.

The video features Ralph Paige, and was produced by the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation.

African-American farmers have faced a number challenges in accessing land to farm as an independent operator. Subjected to segregation in farm organizations, violence, trickery, and unfair treatment under the law, african-american farmers witnessed a drastic decrease in their numbers throughout the Twentieth Century. From 1900 to 1997 the number of african-american farmers decreased by more than 97 percent, while the number of white farmers decreased by 62 percent.