Dispossession: Discrimination against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights

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Between 1940 and 1974, the number of African American farmers fell from 681,790 to just 45,594–a drop of 93 percent. In his hard-hitting book, historian Pete Daniel analyzes this decline and chronicles black farmers’ fierce struggles to remain on the land in the face of discrimination by bureaucrats in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He exposes the shameful fact that at the very moment civil rights laws promised to end discrimination, hundreds of thousands of black farmers lost their hold on the land as they were denied loans, information, and access to the programs essential to survival in a capital-intensive farm structure.More than a matter of neglect of these farmers and their rights, this “passive nullification” consisted of a blizzard of bureaucratic obfuscation, blatant acts of discrimination and cronyism, violence, and intimidation. Dispossession recovers a lost chapter of the black experience in the American South, presenting a counternarrative to the conventional story of the progress achieved by the civil rights movement.

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Review

The critical exposure of discrimination at all levels of government is both informative and provocative and is a welcome addition to the historiographical conversation.–H-1960s

An essential contribution to the rural history of the civil rights movement and to the growing history of black farm ownership.–Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

Well-written and impeccably researched . . . [and] an invaluable and welcomed addition to the ever-expanding landscape of Civil Rights historiography.–Journal of the North Carolina Association of Historians

Read Dispossession. It’s a riveting and timely account of the deleterious legacy of slavery. And despite the national interest in civil rights, not much competes with Dispossession.–Huffington Post

Soberingly revealing the dark underside of an era hailed for black success against racism, Daniel’s work exposes sickening, irreparable, racist destruction that compels reconception of popular memories of a generation of civil rights victories. This book belongs in any serious collection on U.S. civil rights, federal farm policy, or 20th-century America.–Library Journal

Daniel tells a fascinating, in many ways surprising, but completely infuriating story. His archival research is creative and impeccable.–Law and History Review

Likely to stimulate renewed scholarly interest in 20th-century agricultural history, this fine book belongs in every academic library. Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.–Choice

This thoroughly researched and clearly written account of USDA discrimination against black farmers merits reading by anyone interested in agricultural and southern history.–American Historical Review

Southern farmers struggled to keep up with changes in technology and policy, economics and politics, labor relations and out-migration. African American farmers bore the additional burden of crippling discrimination. . . . With customary passion, Pete Daniel methodically demonstrates that the USDA bears much of the blame. Dispossession catalogs decades of locally administered and federally sanctioned racism that permeated this powerful government agency’s activities within the South.–North Carolina Historical Review

Daniel’s Dispossession is provocative, beautifully crafted, and a fitting continuation of his tremendous contribution to our understanding of the fundamental changes in the United States’ agricultural systems during the twentieth century.–Journal of American History

Review

A rich, compelling, and important book. No one chronicles the way government and the advocates of scientific agriculture have changed the rural culture of the South better than Pete Daniel.–Anthony J. Badger, Cambridge University

In this intense and insightful book, Pete Daniel exposes the institutional racism at work in all agencies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, while chronicling the struggles of the black farmers ‘who stubbornly refused to go quietly from their farms.’ Expanding the boundaries of the civil rights movement, Dispossession is a powerful and important contribution to the historiography of the black freedom struggle.–John Dittmer, author of Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi

Daniel’s book documents the countless discriminatory practices of the USDA, which unrelentingly undermined Afro-American farmers’ ability to succeed. He tells of the personal agony experienced by both Afro-American farmers and Afro-American employees of the USDA. The book exposes how USDA bureaucrats stripped Afro-Americans not only of their rights, but also, arguably, of their citizenship.–Timothy C. Pigford, lead plaintiff, Pigford v. Glickman

About the Author

Pete Daniel has been both a professor of history and a public historian. He has served as president of the Southern Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians, and he currently lives in Washington, D.C. This is his seventh book.

Between 1940 and 1974, the number of African American farmers fell from 681,790 to just 45,594–a drop of 93 percent. In his hard-hitting book, historian Pete Daniel analyzes this decline and chronicles black farmers’ fierce struggles to remain on the land in the face of discrimination by bureaucrats in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He exposes the shameful fact that at the very moment civil rights laws promised to end discrimination, hundreds of thousands of black farmers lost their hold on the land as they were denied loans, information, and access to the programs essential to survival in a capital-intensive farm structure.More than a matter of neglect of these farmers and their rights, this “passive nullification” consisted of a blizzard of bureaucratic obfuscation, blatant acts of discrimination and cronyism, violence, and intimidation. Dispossession recovers a lost chapter of the black experience in the American South, presenting a counternarrative to the conventional story of the progress achieved by the civil rights movement.

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