What’s up? Homegirl from the Hamptons checking in.
Not too long ago, Homegirl was alerted of a really cool situation around the history of African-Americans in the Hamptons. Believe it or not it had to do with a property located in Sagaponack at and the house on this property was up for . According to sources, this house was the only house ever historically occupied by an African-American family in Sagaponack and was owned by a black farmer. I have to be honest with you my first reaction was, "Yeah, right — African American History in Sagaponack — are you kidding me?"
For those of you that don’t know, according to BusinessWeek, It has a population of 582. From the 2000 Census, 2.5 percent of the population was African-American; that’s like one and a half of a person. From 2005 and 2010, the percentage is, drum roll ... “0.” So you get the picture, right?
As I sat there and listened I could not help but to reflect on vague memories of stories of family members and friends working on farms. According to Lucius Ware, the president of the Eastern Long Island branch of the NAACP, “Most everybody in the '20s and '30s were farmers and played an important role in farming in the area.” He is absolutely right! It makes total sense! What happened? Why can’t we find any history on this anywhere? What happened to all of those black farmers? What happened to black farmers in general? They had to have owned some of this land right? What happened to that?
Well, anybody that knows Homegirl knows I went searching. Hold on to your seatbelts and take the ride with me.
The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and ratification of the 13th amendment at the end of the Civil War in 1866 gave 4 million African American slaves their freedom. For the next 10 years, Congress implemented Reconstruction policies, some of which were aimed at integrating blacks into civic life. The Freedmans Bureau, established in 1865, opened 45 million acres (primarily in the South) to settlers regardless of race. Many freedmen took advantage of the homestead opportunity, creating the first major wave of African-American land ownership. A lot of hard work yielded 120,738 black farms by 1890.
By 1910 black farmers had accumulated 218,972 farms and nearly 15 million acres of land.
Next was The Great Migration (1914 - 1930). From 1910 through 1970, in the largest migration in American history, 6.5 million African-Americans left the South seeking relief in the North in hopes of a better future. Back in the day, black landowners chose not to leave wills, so ownership of hard-earned property was often distributed among generations of family members no longer living on the land. Lawyers, large landowners and developers used tax and property laws as their weapon to return black land to white control. If one heir could be convinced to sell his portion, then the sale of the entire property could be forced, since it had not been legally apportioned to the other heirs. Sound familiar? Things that make you go hmm.
During the Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) it got even worse for black farmers. Sadly to say, the federal government got in on the action by creating processes (my favorite word) and policies that increased black farm loss. A 1964 study exposed how the U.S. Department of Agriculture actively worked against the economic interest of black farmers. The USDA’s loan agencies, such as the Farmer’s Home Administration, denied black farmers ownership and operation loans, disaster relief and other aid. One practice was to deny credit to any black farmer who assisted Civil Rights activists, joined the NAACP, registered to vote, or simply signed a petition.
So let’s wrap it up:
- In 1920, one in every seven farmers was black; in 1982, one in every 67 farmers was black.
- 1n 1910, black farmers owned 15 million acres of farmland, in 1982, black farmers owned 3.1 million acres of farmland.
- By late 1980s, there were fewer than 2000 African-American farmers under the age of 25.
- Today, there are fewer than 18,000 black farmers, representing less than 1 percent of all farms in America.
Need I say more? Yes, we had black farmers here in the Hamptons. Yes, many of them owned their farms and land. They were here. We may not have the records, but trust me they were here and contributed to the richness of the land that we all enjoy today.
Though insignificant to some, it is my hope that this small gem of African-American history not be demolished and stands as a memorial and dedication to all of the black farmers (known and unknown) who toiled our lands in the Hamptons.
As I put a spin on a quote from Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon: "They grabbed this land! Took it, held it … dug it, plowed it, seeded it, reaped it, rented it, bought it, sold it, owned it, built it, and voluntarily or involuntarily passed it on!"
Peace and blessings always,
Homegirl from the Hamptons
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