Chief seeks to rectify broken promise of ’40 acres and a mule’ by raising money to buy land to help black farmers


Chef Adrian Lipscombe was surprised last spring when unsolicited donations started arriving at his Wisconsin cafe and bakery.

Only a few days had passed since George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis, and checks and envelopes containing money began to appear.

“People were sending me money, and it was for nothing,” Lipscombe told Yahoo News.

Accompanying nationwide calls to end police brutality against African Americans, a trend was underway to support black-owned businesses, including Lipscombe’s restaurant, the Uptowne Café & Bakery. Donations started with a mysterious check for $ 100 in the mail, and then more donations through Venmo started pouring in. But instead of frivolously spending the regularly accumulated funds on herself, the Texas native has decided to devote the money to what she sees as a decade. debt to black farmers in the country.

“I needed to apply it to something … and one thing that I noticed while working [Wisconsin] is that we didn’t have a lot of black farmers, ”she said, noting that less than 2 percent of the country’s farmers are black. So I said, ‘I’m going to launch an initiative that will seek to buy black soil, but also preserve the legacy of black farmers and the legacy of black food methods. “”

Chef Adrian Lipscombe (40 acres and an Instagram mule)

So, in June of last year, Lipscombe launched the “40 Acres & a Mule Project,” a reference to the broken promise of reparations for American slaves after the Civil War. The goal of the project was to purchase 40 acres of land to develop “a safe haven to protect the legacy” of black agricultural heritage, according to its website.

Shortly after launching the initiative, Lipscombe created a GoFundMe page, and in less than five months, she was able to purchase 38 acres of land in St. Helena, SC, in partnership with Muloma Heritage, with the proceeds. Building on this success, she plans to partner with other groups and purchase more land in places like upstate New York, rural Texas and some western states in the goal to eventually develop them into large farms that will benefit black farmers.

In her first year, her project raised more than $ 150,000, which she plans to use to pay property taxes, survey fees and as a down payment in St. Helena for the construction of a Visitor center where black farmers can learn about the history of the industry.

“This ’40 Acres’ initiative is just the start for me,” said Lipscombe. The average cost of an acre of land in the United States starts at just over $ 3,000 and can go as high as $ 10,000 to $ 15,000, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, depending on several factors. , especially soil and topography.

Rice field in South Carolina (Getty Images)

Rice field in South Carolina (Getty Images)

The idea of ​​trying to redress the injustice of slavery through the distribution of land is not new. Just months before the Civil War in January 1865, Union General William T. Sherman issued Special Order 15, which reserved land along the Southeast Coast for black Americans who had served in the war so that “each family has a plot of not more than forty acres of cultivable land.” This plan later became known as the “40 Acres and a Mule” pledge, a commitment to repairs that never came to fruition.

“The order explicitly called for the settlement of black families on the confiscated land, encouraged freedmen to join the Union army to help maintain their newly acquired freedom, and appointed a general officer to act as an inspector. colonies, ”Barton Myers, professor of history at Texas Tech University, writes in the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

As a result of Sherman’s order, approximately 40,000 black Americans were settled. But this proved to be short-lived after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination as his successor, President Andrew Johnson, overturned Sherman’s directive in the fall of 1865 and returned most of the land to the planters who owned it. .

With this bitter heritage in mind, the “40 Acres and a Mule Project” seeks to advance black equity by reclaiming land that has been promised and then refused. Lipscombe, of course, is not the only person who has concluded that buying farmland can be a way of finding refuge and redemption.

Last summer, two black women in Georgia bought 96 acres of land to create a “safe haven” from oppression, naming the young community Freedom.

“Now is the time for us to get our friends and family together and build for ourselves,” said Ashley Scott, real estate agent for Stonecrest, Ga., President of the new region, in an interview in September with Yahoo News. “It’s the only way for us to be safe. And that’s the only way it will work. We must start to come together.

Migrant farmers prepare a truck to travel to Onley, Va., In July 1940, in a photo by the New York Public Library.

Migrant farmers prepare a truck to travel to Onley, Va., In July 1940, in a photo by the New York Public Library. (Photo by Smith Collection / Gado / Getty Images).

In 1910, black Americans owned more than 14 million more acres of land than at any time in the history of the United States. Partly due to the Great Migration and discriminatory policies, black land ownership declined by 90% at the start of the 21st century.

“The main cause of unintentional black land loss” recognized by the USDA was “heir property,” reported ProPublica – land inherited without a will that left owners “vulnerable to laws and loopholes that allow speculators and developers to acquire their property. . In total, heir ownership represented ‘more than a third of the land owned by blacks in the South – 3.5 million acres, valued at over $ 28 billion.’

Although Lipscombe’s interest in black farming stems from her business, she says interest in developing it has grown steadily.

“It’s a daily thing, where people ask, ‘How can I get land for farming and farming? »», She declared. “There is no easy answer out there. There is no handbook discount. So we hope to be that channel and connection, to be able to help people understand not only how to farm, but our history in agriculture.

The hard truth, however, is that without specific initiatives to preserve black agricultural entrepreneurship, this culture is on the verge of extinction. Only 1.3% of the 3.4 million farmers in the United States, or 45,508, are black, according to 2019 data from the United States Department of Agriculture. Ninety-five percent, by comparison, is white.

But owning a farm alone does not equate to wealth for most black farmers. On average, they earn less than $ 40,000 per year, compared to $ 190,000 earned by white farmers.

Fresh farm produce in greenhouse (Getty Images)

Fresh farm produce in greenhouse (Getty Images)

Yet black people owning land equals owning a “part of this history,” something no one can take away, said Kimberly Eison Simmons, co-director of the Institute for African American Studies and Research and assistant professor at the University. from South Carolina. Yahoo News.

“It’s about the place and the meaning of the place,” she said. “You own all of this history and connection to this place and the things that go on there – the good, the bad, all that.”

One provision of President Biden’s US bailout, which was passed by Congress without a Republican vote, was a $ 4 billion debt relief program for black farmers. It was considered by experts to be “the most important legislation for black farmers since [the] Civil Rights Act ”, but a federal judge temporarily blocked the payments. The program, also known as Section 1005, was ultimately suspended because a white Florida farmer claimed it violated his right to equal protection under the law.

“Section 1005’s rigid, categorical, race-based qualification for relief is the antithesis of flexibility,” Judge Marcia Morales Howard wrote in her opinion. “The debt relief provision applies strictly on racial grounds, regardless of any other factor. Anyone who identifies as part of a socially disadvantaged group and has a qualifying farm loan with an outstanding balance as of January 1, 2021, enjoys debt relief of up to 120% – and no one other does not benefit from debt relief.

For many black Americans, this decision echoed the wrongs of the past.

“The thousands of acres of land that were donated (and the thousands taken back) to the descendants of enslaved African Americans are a lasting legacy here in South Carolina,” Todd Shaw, associate professor of political science and studies African-Americans at the University of South Carolina said. “So any effort to return land to black farmers is a very important restorative justice effort. “

Black Americans enslaved working on a plantation in the 19th century.  (Getty Images)

Black Americans enslaved working on a plantation in the 19th century. (Getty Images)

Repairs have long been a controversial topic for most Americans. A June 2020 Reuters / Ipsos poll found that only 1 in 5 Americans supported reparations in the form of “taxpayer money to pay damages to the descendants of people enslaved in the United States.” Of those, nearly 80% of Republicans said they did not support reparations, while a third of Democrats did.

Evanston, Ill. Made history this year, becoming the first U.S. city to approve a reparations plan for its black residents. Evanston City Council approved the first phase of a 10-year, $ 10 million pledge for the return of black residents who suffered from discriminatory housing practices in the city between 1919 and 1969.

Several other cities and states across the country – including Providence, RI, Asheville, NC, Burlington, Vermont and California – have taken steps to introduce remedies to address systemic racism in their communities.

For Lipscombe, land ownership represents the resilience of the black diaspora and must be protected, cultivated and preserved.

“In black agriculture we have to look at the beginning and the harsh reality of how and why we got here,” she said.

Cover thumbnail Illustration: Yahoo News; Photos: Afro American Newspapers / Gado / Getty Images, VW Pics / Universal Images Group via Getty Images, Mondadori via Getty Images


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