It’s taken me awhile to get over the Lakers losing to Boston. I should have expected it. History, after all, is quite instructive.
Under the heading of instructive history, I watched a documentary about the dearth of black-owned family farms in the United States. In the 1920s there were 280,000 black-owned family farms. Blacks owned 15M acres of farmland. Today, there are between 18,000 and 20,000 black-owned farms and black land ownership of farmland is down to 2.1 million acres. Is this a by-product of the explosive growth in Corporate-owned farms or the systematic destruction of black farmers by unseen sources? How many coincidences are required to make a fact? The black farmers in this documentary presented a common story: There parents farmed the land. The land was passed down to them. They applied for loans through Farmer Home Administration and the funds, if allocated, arrived after the planning season was over—and, the amount was always less than requested and less than the amount needed to operate the business. These stories are chilling.
Black-owned farms are projected to be a ‘museum artifact by 2015—an historical anecdote. They will, quite simply, cease to exist. The seeds of the destruction of black-owned farms is present in this AP story:
After midnight on Oct. 4, 1908, 50 hooded white men surrounded the home of a black farmer in Hickman, Ky., and ordered him to come out for a whipping. When David Walker refused and shot at them instead, the mob set fire to his house, according to contemporary newspaper accounts. Walker ran out, followed by four screaming children and his wife, carrying a baby in her arms. The mob shot them all, wounding three children and killing the others. Walker's oldest son never escaped the burning house. No one was ever charged with the killings. Land records show that Walker's 2-1 2-acre farm was simply folded into the property of a white neighbor. The neighbor soon sold it to another man, whose daughter owns the undeveloped land today.
We ‘dis what is familiar, but embrace what is afar.
In a world where Ms. Oprah Winfrey can establish schools in South African townships, former NBA players can rack up $500K in gambling markers and other prominent African-American athletes are millionaires fifty times over, I wonder if the plight of the Black farmer is on the radar screen. Many black-owned farms could be saved with ridiculously small amounts of money—some for as little as $80K.
In the years that I coached varsity basketball at Christian schools, I was shocked at the willingness of congregations to authorize thousands of dollars to support missionary endeavors in Honduras or the Ukraine (there’s nothing wrong with this), but balk at authorizing a $100.00 per month partial scholarship to help a Latino or Black family pay for their kid to attend the school. Within a five mile radius of our school there were kids who might as well have been in Soweto—except it was called Dalworthington Gardens.
Why are we in love with helping those afar off—but needs that are close by, somehow, draw less attention. Madonna gains global PR for her work to adopt a boy from Lilongwe, Malawi. Her presence sheds light on the family crisis in sub-Saharan African brought on by AIDS. But damn, are there not kids in Detroit who need help? (Madonna, if I recall, is a Michigander and the Detroit public schools are in the worst shape of any major school district in the Nation with 1700 layoffs—including 800 teachers—planned for the upcoming school year.)
Could Black athletes become part of a creative short term solution?
I return to the discussion on Black-owned farms. Since blacks are the majority of players in the NBA/NFL, and both leagues have reasonably energetic player unions, why not create not create a working group that established “Micro-Loan’ program for Black-owned farms. According the U.S.D.A. reports, the average amount of financial support to white-owned farms is $9,300—for black-owned farms the number around $3500.00. There are enough combined resources amongst the top tier black athletes to fund this scheme— remember, it’s not a gift, but a loan. This idea, though popularized in Bangladesh, has its conceptual roots firmly planted in the United States.
It the Farm Housing Association can’t/won’t loan black farmers enough to move them past the ‘we’ll give you loan enough money to get in trouble’ paradigm then the top-earning black athletes should step in and create an ‘athlete-funded short-term loan scheme’ that will-- at the very least-- get them through the planting season. This program isn’t intended to abrogate the responsibility or the U.S.D.A. or the F.H.A. but provide a bridge to support the black-owned farms through the lean times.
If Shaquille O’Neal wishes to pursue a rap career, then I shall present him an opportunity to create a benefit concert for Black-owned farms. Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp have successfully arranged 20 ‘Farm-Aid’ concerts and raised $10M. One would think that the wealthiest and most musical post player in the Association could find time to lend his talent to support and re-energize the finances of small black-owned farms.
Read about an NGO supporting Black-owned family farms.