After a Century of Dispossession, Black Farmers Are Fighting to Get Back to the Land

A man stands inside a greenhouse, looking directly at the camera without smiling.

Racism and agriculture—are they related? Do squirrels climb trees? Using historical background, current statistics and trends, and descriptions of Black farmers and organizations, Tom Philpott presents a detailed report of a complicated situation. Philpott is an award-winning journalist and Mother Jones food and agriculture correspondent; his report is from the May+June 2021 edition of the magazine.  

Read it here.


1. Philpott explains the phenomenon of Black land loss. Why did it occur? What historical events and trends caused it? Do you think Philpott’s description is clear and thorough? Why or why not? Explain your reasoning.

2. Philpott deftly weaves several informational components to form his detailed report. Those components— historical background, statistics and data about current trends and conditions, brief descriptions of people and organizations involved in Black agrarianism, and a detailed profile of a committed Black farmer in North Carolina—present a thorough look at a multi-faceted endeavor. Think about the order of the components in the report and the proportions of each component. Should Philpott have focused more on any particular one? Which? Should he have focused less on any certain component? Which? Would the report have been as interesting if he had omitted or reduced the profile of Tahz Walker? Explain your responses and your reasoning.

3. LET’S TALK. In his conclusion, Philpott refers to the “complicated past” of US agricultural practices and policies with regard to land ownership—a complicated past that has led to an even more complicated present and future. What are the complications of the situation? Why is the very idea of “ownership” a complicated one? What factors are involved? Talk about these questions with two or three classmates. Your goal here is not to argue over the merits of any particular course of action but instead to help one another grasp all of the implications of the current situation and to deepen understanding of how each one of us is shaped by much more than our own immediate family and community spheres.

4. LET’S WRITE. In detailing the history of Black land ownership and Black agrarians, Philpott vividly demonstrates the interplay between personal endeavors and larger forces of history. Interview someone at least one generation older than you (more, if possible), and ask them about an important event or decision during their young adulthood—something that might have been influenced or set into motion by a historical event or situation, such as hurricane, war, economic conditions, etc . Take notes or record the conversation (openly and with permission to do so). Then, consult newspaper archives or published sources to learn more about whatever large-scale historical events might have influenced or motivated your interviewee’s decision. Write a report on what you learn, weaving the personal and the historical elements.

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