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Black Farmers in the USA and Michigan: Longevity, Empowerment, and Food Sovereignty

Journal of African American Studies volume 22, pages49–76 (2018)

OKT is sharing this important journal article in parts over the next weeks. Here is part five.

The Lawsuit Against the United States Department of Agriculture

Allegations of Discrimination Against Black Farmers

Black farmers have difficulty obtaining credit and this is at the crux of their grievances against the USDA. Between 1984 and 1985, for instance, the USDA lent about $1.3 billion to 16,000 farmers but only 209 of them were black. Black farmers were also affected by falling crop prices and high interest rates charged on loans. When farmers were unable to repay their loans, banks foreclose on their property. Not only were black farmers systematically denied disaster relief aid and loans offered to white farmers, it took an average of 60 days to process loan applications for white farmers while it took about 220 days to process loan applications for black farmers. Moreover, some of the loans made to black farmers were not approved till late in the growing season. Blacks also received about $21,000 less than white farmers in loans even though they managed similarly sized farms (Merem 2006, pp. 88–92; Rural Coalition 2001; Goffe 2002, p. 43; Daniel 2013; Pigford et al. v. Glickman 1998; Pigford v. Glickman and Brewington v. Glickman 1999; Congressional Record 2010: S6836-S6837). A study of 348 Farm Service Agency loan applications in Georgia between 1999 and 2002 found that 57.6% of loan applications were approved compared to 39.2% of the loans of nonwhite borrowers. However, the study found that race was not a significant predictor of loan approval in multivariate models (Escalante et al. 2006, pp. 61–75). The decline in the number of black farmers caught the attention of congress and led to an investigation into the cause of the decline. Black farmers identified the USDA as an agency that discriminated against them through the programs it ran and the way the agency responded to complaints. Blacks filed suit against the agency in 1997; the case, Pigford v. Glickman, was brought by 401 black farmers alleging that the USDA discriminated against them in the way they administered farm programs. The farmers also alleged that the agency failed to investigate complaints properly.Footnote7

The programs in question were those administered by the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service and the Farmers Home Administration. Together, the two programs administered loans and subsidies such as price support loans, disaster relief payments, and farm ownership and operating loans. The two programs ran until 1994 when they were folded into the Farm Service Agency. Though the programs operated with federal funds, the funds were controlled and disbursed by county committees. The county committees made decisions on who should get funding, how much they should get, and how expeditiously requests were processed. If farmers’ requests were denied, they can appeal to a state committee and after that to a federal review board. Farmers who felt the denial of their application was racially motivated could file a complaint with the Secretary of the USDA or with the Office of Civil Rights Enforcement and Adjudication (Pigford v. Glickman 19981999). Despite the fact that the USDA vested so much power in the hands of the county committees, these entities did not reflect the racial make-up of the communities they served. Though the Southeast region has the largest concentration of black farmers, in 1996 only 28 or 1.1% of the 2469 county commissioners in the region were black. In the Southwest region, 0.3% of the county commissioners were black. In fact, there were a total of 37 black county commissioners out of a total of 8147 nationwide.Footnote8

The black farmers’ law suit alleged that the county committees denied loans and disaster relief to blacks while those for similarly situated whites were approved. It was also alleged that the county committees took longer to process loans for blacks than for whites. Though farmers could send a complaint to the USDA, the agency dismantled its Office of Civil Rights in 1983 and from that time onwards complaints were not processed, investigated, or forwarded to the appropriate agency. As a result, farmers who filed complaints either got no response or a cursory notification that their request was denied. At the same time, farms were being foreclosed on despite the fact that complaints were filed and not processed. In 1997, the Office of Inspector General of the USDA acknowledged that the agency had a large backlog of complaints of discrimination that had not been processed, investigated, or resolved (Pigford v. Glickman 19981999).

The Consent Decree

A Consent Decree between the USDA and plaintiffs was reached on January 5, 1999. The litigants in two law suits—Pigford v. Glickman and Brewington v. Glickman—were consolidated into one group of class action plaintiffs. The time of the alleged discrimination was limited to those occurring between January 1, 1981 and December 31, 1996 and farmers who were not a part of the original law suit but who met the criteria outlined above were allowed to join the class (Pigford v. Glickman 1998; Pigford v. Glickman 1999). If they chose the path that required the lowest burden of proof (Track AFootnote9), farmers filing successful claims were awarded $50,000, plus an additional $12,500 to pay the taxes owed on the settlement (Roth 2004).

The number of black farmers making claims ballooned quickly. In 2004, the court-appointed monitor Randi Roth, testified before the House Judiciary Committee that there were 22,369 eligible claimants in the case. However, thousands more—claiming that extraordinary circumstances prevented them from filing on time—filed claims through the late claims process. In all, 96,189 claims were filed. As of 2009, there were 22,721 eligible claimants; 99% of these were track A claims. In all, 69% of the claims were approved. A total of $1,002,471,686 was paid out under track A by 2009 (Roth 2004; Office of the Monitor 2009).

Continued Legal Battles Between the USDA and Black Farmers

Despite the settlement, the relationship between the USDA and black farmers is characterized by acrimony and distrust. Since 2000, more than 14,000 complaints have been filed with the agency (Vilsack 2009). There was also an ongoing controversy over what to do about the thousands of late claimants in the Pigford case that are considered ineligible. This was addressed somewhat in the 2008 Farm Bill that allowed for the late claims to be reviewed to ascertain if any qualified to be included in class action group. The bill also included a $100 million appropriation to settle the cases in addition to a provision to allow for more funds to settle cases if needed. In 2008, the National Black Farmers Association filed a lawsuit against the USDA on behalf of 823 black farmers (USA Today 2008; Hagstrom 2009). In 2010, the congress approved an additional $1.25 billion to settle approximately 61,000 additional discrimination claimsFootnote10 that had been filed by black farmers not covered by the Pigford v. Glickman settlement (Department of Justice 2010; Congressional Record 2010: S6836-S6837).

Black Farmers in the USA and Michigan: Longevity, Empowerment, and Food Sovereignty

Journal of African American Studies volume 22, pages49–76 (2018)

OKT is sharing this important journal article in parts over the next weeks. Here is part four.

Farmers’ Cooperatives as a Survival Strategy

Early Efforts to Establish Black-White Alliances

Blacks developed cooperatives and used this collective action strategy to help them survive in the agricultural sector. Unjust work conditions on the plantations led to increasing militancy among blacks and attempts to forge alliances with white workers. At the end of the 1880s, a populist rural movement of agrarian radicalism, the Farmers’ Alliance, swept across the South. However, members of the Alliance were hesitant to incorporate blacks into the movement. A black minister and farmer, J. W. Carter, resolved the stalemate when he organized the Colored Farmers’ Alliance in 1889. By 1890, more than a million black farmers were members of the Colored Farmers National Alliance and Cooperative Union.Footnote5 The organization helped members secure loans to purchase farms (Bennett 1993, pp. 256–257; Tolnay and Beck 1991, p. 24; Reynolds 2002, p. 5; Knapp 1969, pp. 57–67; Goodwyn 1976, pp. 278–285; Hinson and Robinson 2008, p. 288).

A separate form of collective action got underway in 1890. This initiative was modeled after the village improvement associations that started in New England and spread to the rest of the country.Footnote6 In his desire to help black farmers break the cycle of debt and crop liens, Robert Smith, a principal from East Texas, formed the Farmers’ Improvement Society. The Society established a buying cooperative and focused on helping families operate on a cash basis. The organization had 2340 members by 1900 in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas and coop members owned 46,000 acres of farmland. They also organized the Farmers’ Improvement Bank to help farmers obtain financing for their operations (Reynolds 2002, pp. 6–7). Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Institute also helped blacks establish farms in the 1890s. Under Washington’s guidance, the Southern Improvement Company was formed in 1901. The Company purchased a 4000-acre tract of land with funding obtained from a group of northern philanthropists; subdivided it and sold parcels to black farmers. Washington and Tuskegee also created the Tuskegee Farm and Improvement Company (also known as Baldwin Farms) in 1914. The Company, which remained operational till 1949, also purchased and operated an 18,400-acre tract of land in Alabama (Reynolds 2002, pp. 7–8; Zabawa and Warren 1998, pp. 467–469; Anderson 1978, p. 114).

The USDA created the Cooperative Farm Demonstration Service in 1903 to limit the impact of the boll weevil on the lands of white farmers. When the outbreak spread and ravaged black farms, the USDA created a Negro Cooperative Farm Demonstration Service at Tuskegee Institute and hired black agents to serve black farmers. Even with the deployment of black agents to help black farmers learn about crops, some argue that the controversial Negro Cooperative Farm Demonstration Service was of limited success (Ferguson 1998, pp. 35–36; Hersey 2006, pp. 258–259).

The Southern Tenants Farmers Union

Despite limited success in building cross-racial farmer’s alliances, blacks and whites joined forces in 1934 in Arkansas to form the Southern Tenants Farmers Union (STFU). The STFU tried to reform the sharecropping and tenancy system as the boll weevil, floods, and drought made it difficult for sharecroppers and tenant farmers to survive. The STFU helped to form the Unemployment League to put pressure on the Agricultural Adjustment Administration to create jobs for croppers and tenant farmers (Cobb 2008; Griffin 1982; Auerbach 1966, pp. 3–74; Grubbs 1971).

The STFU had more than 35,000 members by 1938. Though the organization lasted till about 1989, it was ineffective from the early 1940s onwards. Ideological differences over whether to join the Congress of Industrial Organizations or the Communist Party, debates over whether blacks should leave the organization, anti-communist infiltration, infighting, the emergence of the mechanical cotton pickers and tractors, and the Great Migration made the organization lose focus and influence (Cobb 2008; Griffin 1982; Auerbach 1966, pp. 3–74; Grubbs 1971).

Cooperatives in the Civil Rights Era and Beyond

The civil rights era ushered in a period of renewed emphasis on black farmer’s cooperatives. Through the cooperatives, blacks pooled their resources to purchase farm supplies in bulk, share equipment, identify supply chains, expand their value-added operations, and consolidate their transactions to limit exposure to hostile merchants. Some merchants denied blacks known to be members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) access to supplies, credit, and markets. As a result, black farmers collaborated with each other to establish alternative supply chains for their produce. For example, in 1956, black farmers in Clarendon County, North Carolina formed the Clarendon County Improvement Association to counter the discrimination they faced because of their membership in the NAACP. When local bankers stopped issuing credit to members of the Association, the NAACP and the United Automobile Workers helped members secure other funding. Black farmers also formed the Grand Marie Vegetable Producers Cooperative, Inc., in Louisiana in 1965 to counteract racism and get their produce to market (Reynolds 2002, pp. 2, 10–11; Daniel 2000, p. 247; Marshall and Godwin 1971, p. 51).

The National Black Farmers Association has argued that the lack of access to a broad variety of seeds puts them at a disadvantage. The group has spoken out against what it sees as the monopoly that Monsanto has on seeds. The National Black Farmers Association—that has about 80,000 members—also publicly opposed Monsanto’s acquisition of Delta and Pine Land, one of the nation’s largest cotton seed companies. Members of the National Black Farmers Association allege that they are unable to purchase seeds locally because of their stand against Monsanto hence they have to drive to different states to purchase the seeds needed for their farms (Boyd 2009; National Black Farmers Association 2007).

Similarly, one of the largest black cooperatives, the South West Alabama Farmers Cooperative Association, was boycotted by white merchants and harassed by politicians. This cooperative was formed in 1967. As black cooperatives proliferated, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, also founded in 1967, was formed to serve as an umbrella group to organize the myriad of farmers’ cooperatives, credit unions, and related community-based organizations. Within 2 years of its founding, the Federation had 24 agricultural cooperatives with 5982 members in its fold. By the 1970s, 50 agricultural cooperatives operated under the aegis of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. The Federation merged with a sister organization, the Emergency Land Fund, to better position itself to deal with the crisis of diminishing land ownership among blacks. Today, the Federation has more than 70 cooperative groups and a membership of over 20,000 families (Voorhis 1975, p. 212; Marshall and Godwin 1971; Reynolds 2002, p. 11; The Federation of Southern Cooperatives 20072017).

Black Farmers Today

In 2012, the agriculture census reported that the country’s 46,582 black farm operators accounted for 1.5% of the total farm operators. This number should be interpreted with caution because prior to 2002, the agriculture census collected information on only one farm operator (the principal operator) per farm. Since 2002, the census collects information on multiple farm operators when more than one person operates a farm. However, during the period (2002–2012), the new data collection method has been in place, the total number of black farm operators has increased by 10,212; this represents a 28% increase over this period (U.S. Department of Agriculture 2004, pp. 54–55, 2009, pp. 58–64, 2014, pp. 58–65).

Nationwide, black farmers are older than others and still operate small farms. While the average American farm is 434 acres in 2012, the average size of black-operated farms is 125 acres. The average value of sales on black-operated farms is $36,052 while the nationwide average is $187,097. Table 2 shows that unlike their predecessors, most contemporary black farm operators own the land they farm. That is, 67.8% of the black operators are full owners of the land they farm and this accounts for 45.7% of the acreage farmed by blacks in 2012. Moreover, black tenant farmers are now playing only a minor role in farming (U.S. Department of Agriculture 2014, pp. 58–65). Overwhelmingly, black farms are owned by an individual or family; 89.6% of black-operated farms fit this description in 2012. While the percentage of black farms operated by corporations has fluctuated since 1997, the percentage operating as cooperatives/estates/trusts have increased from 0.9% in 1997 to 1.4% in 2012 (U.S. Department of Agriculture 2014, p. 63, 2009, pp. 58–64, 1999, pp. 25–26).Table 2 Characteristics of black farm operators and the farms they operate, 1997–2012Full size table

Contemporary black farmers have moved away from cotton and tobacco production and have diversified what they produce. Hence in 2012, 17,037 black farms were cattle ranches, 7324 grew sugarcane, 2839 farmed oilseed and grain, almost 2000 grew vegetables and melon, and more than a thousand reared goats and sheep, or operated greenhouses and nurseries. In contrast, that year there were only 201 black-operated cotton farms and 138 black-operated tobacco farms (U.S. Department of Agriculture 2014, p. 62).

Black Farmers in the USA and Michigan: Longevity, Empowerment, and Food Sovereignty

Journal of African American Studies volume 22, pages49–76 (2018)

OKT is sharing this important journal article in parts over the next few weeks. Here is part three.

At the turn of the twentieth century, most of the black farmers did not own the land on which they farmed. Hence in 1900, around 75% of the black farm operators were tenant farmers and sharecroppers. In comparison, about 30% of white farm operators were tenant farmers and share croppers. Most of the black farmers also lived in the South. Blacks farmed about 38.2 million acres and the total value of their farm property was roughly $450 million. The farms blacks operated tended to be small—87.3% of the farms were less than 100 acres in size. At the time, 58% of white-operated farms were less than a hundred acres (U.S. Census Bureau 1902, pp. 48–112).

The number of black farmers in the USA had declined dramatically since peaking in 1920. At their peak, black farm operators comprised 14.3% of the total farmers in the USA. They farmed approximately 41.4 million acres and their operations were worth an estimated $2.3 billion (U.S. Census Bureau 1922, pp. 293–313).

The USDA’s Farm Service AgencyFootnote2 responded to the nationwide loss of farmland by helping to create farming settlements during the 1930s. Roughly 13 of the more than 100 farming settlements that the agency created were all-black. This was a short-lived project as the Farm Service Agency phased out its resettlement and coop-building programs after 1941 (Zabawa and Warren 1998, pp. 480–483; Wood and Ragar 2012, p. 18; Reynolds 2002, p. 10). Early on, environmental inequalities were evident in the spatial configuration of the resettlement projects. Though some of the resettlement communities had white and black farmers, the two groups were segregated such that one section of the community had only white farmers and the other only black farmers. This was the case with Tillery/Roanoke Farms. The all-white portion of the settlement was called Roanoke Farms, while blacks occupied the Tillery Farms portion. When the settlement was being constructed, the section that became Tillery was originally intended for white homesteaders. The farms were partitioned and construction began on two-story homes. However, whites complained that the Roanoke River tended to flood and they did not want to live in the flood zone. White farmers suggested that blacks be settled in the floodplain instead. They requested that the higher grounds be allocated to whites. Once it was decided that whites would be settled away from the river, no more two-story homes were constructed in the area designated for black occupancy. The Roanoake River flooded in 1940, destroying about half of the Tillery project (Wood and Ragar 2012, pp. 18–20). Hence in the case of Roanoke and Tillery, residential space, location of farms, exposure to hazards, risk, and size and quality of housing were racialized in a way that placed blacks at a disadvantage. That is, the different levels of risk that blacks and whites in the settlement faced impacted the profitability of their farms and their ability to keep the farms solvent.

Other actions of the Farm Service Agency were also detrimental to blacks. For example, decisions related the agency’s operations—such as the granting of loans—are vested in a local committee structure and blacks have had little say in Farm Service Agency’s committees. For instance, there are nearly 3000 county agricultural offices nationwide and less than 2% of county committee members are black. As a result, separate procedures, loan packages, and levels of oversight are applied to black and white farmers routinely (Wood and Ragar 2012, p. 24). In 2015, only 10.5% of the employees of the Farm Service Agency were African Americans (Partnership for Public Service 2016).

Nearly 1 million Michiganders lost power from August storms as DTE, Consumers Energy were unprepared

Detroit News exposes DTE, Consumers for propping up status quo, funding 96% of Michigan Legislature





Nearly 1 million Michiganders lost power from August storms as DTE, Consumers Energy were unprepared and ill-equipped


A news release from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters reports that the cozy relationship Michigan’s utilities enjoy with lawmakers enshrining their monopolies – resulting in the highest electricity rates and lowest reliability in the Midwest – is fueled by millions in political and civic donations, as exposed by the Detroit News in an article today.

The article found 140 out of 146 Michigan lawmakers received some kind of campaign donation from DTE or Consumers Energy, while the monopoly utilities funneled $55 million to political and civic spending.

“When storms hit and Michigan utilities leave nearly 1 million people in the dark, it’s clear the status quo is unacceptable,” said Bob Allison, deputy director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “Behind closed doors, the utilities continue to lobby against common-sense clean energy policies that would help lower the cost of electricity and improve reliability for customers. Michiganders deserve better, which is why DTE and Consumers Energy must be held fully accountable for their failures over the summer.”

Michigan LCV has called for a moratorium on residential electric rate hikes until independent investigations can look into why Michiganders suffer through more and longer outages than any other state in the Great Lakes region. The Michigan Public Service Commission has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 22, while a legislative hearing has been proposed but not scheduled, according to media reports.

According to the independent Citizens Utility Board of Michigan (CUB), an independent organization representing the interests of Michigan’s residential energy customers, Michigan utilities lag far behind other states in terms of reliability: 

  • Michigan utilities had the second-worst restoration time per outage in the nation – even on days without major storm events. 
  • In the Great Lakes region, Michiganders experienced the most amount of minutes out-of-power on average annually. 

In the last five years, DTE Energy has increased rates to the tune of $775 million with little improvements to service, while Consumers Energy is currently proposing a $225 million rate increase – just months after they hiked our rates this past January. 

While DTE had profits of $1.4 billion and Consumers Energy’s parent company, CMS, raking in $680 million, Michigan ratepayers are experiencing unreliable service. More than 800,000 Michiganders lost power during recent storms and the utilities are now saying customers will have to file paperwork to receive a small credit for their troubles. 

Media reports show that DTE and Consumers Energy paid no federal taxes in 2020, with utility spokespersons saying it would ultimately trickle down into savings to customers.  Last year, both Consumers Energy and DTE spent more than $10 million paying their CEOs. 

Black Farmers in the USA and Michigan: Longevity, Empowerment, and Food Sovereignty

Journal of African American Studies volume 22, pages49–76 (2018)

OKT is sharing this important journal article in parts over the next few weeks. Here is part two.

A National Overview

Historical Context

Free and enslaved blacks have farmed the American soil for almost four centuries. One of the earliest black farm owners in the USA is believed to be Anthony (Antonio) Johnson, an Angolan, who was brought to Jamestown in colonial Virginia in 1619 as an indentured servant. After gaining his freedom around 1835, Johnson and his wife, Mary, grew corn and tobacco on their 250-acre farm. The wealthy couple later moved to Somerset County, Maryland, where they cultivated 300 acres of land (Berlin 1998; Hinson and Robinson 2008, p. 284; Foner 1980; Breen and Innis 1980, pp. 10–17).

The Johnson’s success is unusual because it was difficult for blacks to own land and operate farms of their own. There were legislative attempts to prohibit black landownership as early as 1818, and the barriers erected to prevent blacks from acquiring land in the South were very effective. In only one state, Virginia, was there substantial black landowners. In 1860, blacks owned 13,000 tracts of land in the state’s Tidewater counties (Gray 1949, p. 528; Fisher 1973, p. 481). Up until the early 1860s, black landownership was realized in a haphazard fashion. As the Civil War waned, attempts to sell land to blacks became more structured. The first attempt at organized land distribution involving blacks occurred in 1862 when William Tecumseh Sherman ordered confiscated Confederate plantations to be sold (Reynolds 2002, p. 20; Pease and Pease 1963, pp. 139–141; Hinson and Robison 2008, p. 286).

Farming by free blacks accelerated during reconstruction as increased numbers of blacks acquired their own land. The Freedmen’s Bureau Act of 1865 called for 40-acre parcels to be carved out of abandoned plantations and unsettled lands and sold to former slaves. That year, about 40,000 blacks were settled on tracts on the Carolina Sea Islands and cultivated thousands of acres of environmentally vulnerable lands in swamps, tidal flats, river bottomlands, and flood zones. The opposition to black landownership was strong and some blacks were forced off the land they had acquired. Consequently, by late 1865, Andrew Johnson’s administration halted the Union Army’s efforts to distribute land to blacks. A second Freedmen’s Bureau Act was passed in 1866 but it had no specifications for distributing tracts of land to blacksFootnote1(Bennett 1993, pp. 186–191; Reynolds 2002, p. 2–3; Shannon 1968, p. 84). Eventually, most of the land confiscated from former plantation owners were restored to the former owners and the impact of the Freedmen’s Bureau was quite limited (Fisher 1973, p. 482). The government’s reluctance to subdivide plantations hindered widespread distribution of land to blacks (Reynolds 2002, p. 3).

Some blacks did manage to obtain land through the Southern Homestead Act of 1866. Patterned after the 1862 Homestead Act, the Southern Homestead Act was in effect from 1866 to 1876 and was intended to help freed slaves and whites who took an oath of loyalty to gain access to 80-acre parcels of farmland. The Act opened up and sold off about 46.4 million acres of land in the public domain in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi; however, much of this land was pine woods and swamplands that were unfit for cultivation. Blacks seeking homesteads were threatened, intimidated, or barriers erected to make it difficult for them to participate in the program. This was the case because white plantation owners saw independent black land owners and farmers as a threat to the plantation system that was heavily dependent on cheap and servile labor. Consequently, only 4000 of the 67,600 applicants to the program were black. Notwithstanding, blacks secured homesteads in Florida, Arkansas, and Georgia (Franklin and Moss Jr. 1994, p. 234; Meinig 2000, pp. 195–198; Oliver and Shapiro 1996, pp. 14–15; Oubre 1978; Ferguson 1998, pp. 37–38).

A system of forced labor based on tenancy and peonage laws bound most blacks to the plantations as effectively as slavery. Thus, in 1890, seven out of every eight blacks worked on a plantation or as a domestic servant. However, the Second Morrill Act which enabled the establishment of state agricultural colleges for black students was passed in 1890. The agricultural program at Tuskegee Institute was one of these programs (Reynolds 2002, p. 5). Despite this development, peonage in the form of share cropping and tenant farming remained common. Though peonage laws were found unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1911, a year later roughly 250,000 blacks were still being held to service on southern plantations against their will (Bennett 1993, pp. 218, 245–249; 252–255; Drake and Cayton 1993, p. 53; Tolnay and Beck 1991, p. 25).

Notwithstanding, black landownership grew during the second half of the nineteenth century. W. E. B. Du Bois estimates that collectively blacks owned 3 million acres of land in 1875, 8 million in 1890, and 12 million in 1900 (Du Bois 1935, p. 4). By 1910, blacks owned roughly 16 million acres of farmland (Schweninger 1989, pp. 41–69; Daniel 2007, p. 3). However, the practice of selling or placing blacks on marginal, degraded, hazard prone, or agriculturally unproductive lands was so commonplace that Du Bois referred to these as waste lands (Du Bois 1901, p. 665; Fisher 1973, p. 483).

Blacks farmed significant acreage, but by the early part of the twentieth century, black landownership and farming began to plummet. Nationwide, blacks constituted 13% of the farmers in 1900 (see Table 1); however, they operated 29.4% of the least valuable farms and only 1% of the most valuable ones. The most common crops grown by black farmers were cotton and rice. That is, 49.1% of the farmers growing cotton were black, so were 37.3% of those growing rice, 18.3% of those growing tobacco, 14.8% of those growing sugar, and 10% of those growing vegetables. Black farm operators were so dependent on cotton that 70.5% derived their primary income from cotton. Another 6.9% obtained their primary income from hay and grain, 4.1% from livestock, and 2.6% from tobacco (U.S. Census Bureau 1902, pp. 48–112).

Public health experts urge Michiganders to decline to sign Unlock Michigan 2 petition


Dangerous initiative would shift public health decisions to unqualified politicians, putting kids and seniors at risk

Note from OKT: Whenever you are approached to sign a petition, read it carefully! Don’t rely on what the paid signature-gatherer tells you the petition is about.

Public Health Over Politicians, a group comprised of public health officials, doctors and nurses who believe the health of all Michiganders should come before partisan politics and political games,  is urging Michigan voters to decline to sign the Unlock Michigan 2 petition – a dangerous initiative that would put kids and seniors at risk by shifting decision-making power from public health experts to politicians in a public health crisis.

“Public health experts are best suited for making informed decisions based on education and training when it comes to protecting the health and safety of Michigan residents, which is why we strongly encourage voters to decline to sign this irresponsible petition,” said Linda Vail, chief health officer for Ingham County. “COVID-19 cases are on the rise and kids are heading back to school. Signing this petition would vest decision making in unqualified politicians, putting everyone at risk, and in particular our kids, our seniors and others who are most vulnerable. It’s not the time to politicize science. Now is the time to rely on public health experts to do their jobs.”

The same group behind Unlock Michigan 2 led an initiative that stripped the emergency powers of the governor during a public health emergency. If Unlock Michigan 2 is enacted, all public health emergency orders will automatically terminate after 28 days — even if those orders are protecting people and saving lives, just as cases of COVID-19 surge and Michigan students prepare to return to school.

This entry was posted on August 26, 2021, in Policy.

Black Farmers in the USA and Michigan: Longevity, Empowerment, and Food Sovereignty

Journal of African American Studies volume 22, pages49–76 (2018)

OKT is sharing this important journal article in parts over the next few weeks. Here is part one.

Blacks have been farming in the USA for about four centuries and in Michigan since the 1830s. Yet, for blacks, owning and retaining farmland has been a continuous challenge. This historical analysis uses environmental justice and food sovereignty frameworks to examine the farming experiences of blacks in the USA generally, and more specifically in Michigan. It analyzes land loss, the precipitous decline in the number of black farmers, and the strategies that blacks have used to counteract these phenomena. The paper shows that the ability of blacks to own and operate farms has been negatively impacted by lack of access to credit, segregation, relegation to marginal and hazard-prone land, natural disasters, organized opposition to black land ownership, and systemic discrimination. The paper examines the use of cooperatives and other community-based organizations to help blacks respond to discrimination and environmental inequalities. The paper assesses how the farming experiences of blacks in Michigan compare to the experiences of black farmers elsewhere. It also explores the connections between Michigan’s black farmers, southern black farmer cooperatives, and Detroit’s black consumers.

Introduction

When one thinks of Michigan, the image that first comes to mind is not one of rural agriculture, yet Michigan is an important agricultural state in the USA. In 2015, Michigan lead the nation in the production of several categories of dry beans, blueberries, pickling cucumbers, tart cherries, and squash and is second leading producer of asparagus, all dry beans, carrots, celery, and Niagara grapes (National Agricultural Statistics Service 2016, p. 1). It is even more unlikely for people to conjure up images of black farmers when they think of Michigan, yet blacks—despite declines in their numbers—have a long and compelling history of farming in the state.

This paper uses the frameworks of environmental justice and food sovereignty to trace the history of black farmers in the USA and the state of Michigan. It analyzes the historical and contemporary constraints that black farmers face and their hardiness as it discusses how Michigan’s black farmers respond to these challenges. It also discusses ways in which black farmers in the state perceive of and try to empower themselves as they enhance food sovereignty and food security in black communities. This paper provides a fresh look at black agricultural experiences through its focus on Michigan. To date, very few research papers have examined the topic of black farmers in Michigan. The comparison between Michigan and the rest of the country has uncovered interesting and enduring North-South relationships that are understudied and deserve more scholarly attention. The paper is also important because if we are going to reverse the trend of land loss and decline in farming among blacks effectively, we need to examine farming among blacks in much broader contexts than have traditionally been undertaken.

Michiganders deserve independent investigations into failures by DTE, Consumers Energy

Increase power outage credits to customers
and make repairs come from utility profits

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters today is calling for the Michigan Public Service Commission and the Legislature to conduct oversight hearings on the failures by DTE and Consumers Energy to prevent outages and reconnect customers following summer storms.  

Michigan’s leaders also should demand DTE and Consumers increase the $25 power outage credit for customers that lost power in recent storms, make those payments automatic without a complicated paperwork process, and ensure that widespread improvements to Michigan’s energy grid come from utility profits — not more rate increases.

“For years now, our residential rates have been skyrocketing, eating up more of family budgets, and yet all we get is more blackouts, longer outage times, and less reliability.  DTE and Consumers seem content to rake in massive, windfall profits while families and businesses across Michigan suffer without power,” said Bob Allison, deputy director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “We need a full-on, independent state investigation, and our Legislature and the Public Service Commission should get to the bottom of why Michigan’s utility companies continue to fail their customers and businesses.  No family should ever be left in the dark for a week again.”   

FACTS

According to the independent Citizens Utility Board of Michigan (CUB), an independent organization representing interests of residential energy customers in Michigan, Michigan utilities lag far behind other states in terms of reliability:

  • Michigan utilities had the second-worst restoration time per outage in the nation — even on days without major storm events.
  • In the Great Lakes region, Michiganders experienced the most amount of minutes out-of-power on average annually.

In the last five years, DTE Energy has jacked up rates to the tune of $775 million with little improvements to service while Consumers Energy is currently proposing a $225 million rate increase — just months after they hiked our rates this past January.

While DTE had profits of $1.4 billion and Consumers Energy’s parent company, CMS, raking in $680 million, Michigan ratepayers are experiencing unreliable service. More than 800,000 Michiganders lost power during recent storms and the utilities are now saying customers will have to file paperwork to receive a small credit for their troubles.

Media reports show that DTE and Consumers Energy paid no federal taxes in 2020, with utility spokespersons saying it would ultimately trickle down into savings to customers.  Last year, both Consumers Energy and DTE spent more than $10 million paying their CEOs.

Green Gavel scoring system rates Michigan’s Supreme Court’s environmental impacts

Note from OKT: If you were at the Southeast Area Farmers Market last week, you may have talked with the Michigan LCV folks who ere sharing information there. Here’s an example of their good work.

Reposted from Rapid Growth Media

In collaboration with students at the University of Michigan Law School, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has updated its online Green Gavels tool. When a Michigan Supreme Court case concerns an environmental issue, the scoring tool rates the justices’ decision on the case either green, yellow or red, based on how it impacts the environment. 

“We want our Supreme Court legal system to be independent from political influence of all kinds and not independent from the best ideas and public desire for cleaner land, air and water,” says Nick Occhipinti, Michigan LCV’s Grand Rapids-based government affairs director.

A green gavel indicates a decision that was good for the environment, a red gavel means not only was the decision bad for the environment, but the justices could have chosen to rule differently. Yellow gavels indicate either that the issue had no impact on the environment, was bad but decided upon precedent or an unrelated issue, or was bad but based correctly on the existing law.

“It’s an opportunity for the public to gain better access to information that is not easily available. [The Green Gavel] is shining a bright light on what the Michigan Supreme Court is doing,” Occhipinti says. “The state Supreme Court is a third, coequal branch of the government.”

One case the Michigan LCV followed was Henry v. Dow Chemical. A unanimous 2018 Michigan Supreme Court decision reversed the lower courts and prevented residents from bringing lawsuits when negative health issues caused by pollution do not develop until after the existing statute of limitations had passed.

“Now it is harder for property owners to bring suits,” Occhipinti says. “Because we’re active in the legislative arena and connected to the legal realm, with this tool, we can put the pieces together. [We can] say, ‘Hey, folks, this legislation is critically important because it closes this legal gap.’ In this case, the statute of limitations, but pick your issue.”

Nick Occhipinti

Originally launched in 2012, Michigan LCV’s Green Gavels scored environmental cases from 1980-2012. The update adds cases from 2012-2020 and tracks scores for current justices. Cases and justices’ scores are updated regularly. Currently, the website reports that Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack has the most green gavels, seven, while Justice Brian K. Zara has the most red gavels, seven.

“Connection of the legal outcomes at the State Supreme Court, at that highest level, connection to statute and legislative change within the Michigan legislature, that is how we connect to issues,” Occhipinti says. “Finding that there are holes and a legal recourse for protecting [people from] contaminated sites, protecting Michigan’s land, air and water. My job is to improve our legislative policy that will then protect communities.”


Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Michigan League of Conservation Voters

In solidarity with Michigan food workers

Strikes Waged Across the Country Come On the 12-Year Anniversary Since the Last Increase to the Federal Minimum Wage

Today, starting at 12:00, dozens of restaurant workers in Detroit will conduct a ‘wage strike’ at Mcdonald’s on 14142 Fordham in solidarity with McDonald’s cashiers and cooks going on strike. One Fair Wage leaders are demanding a full minimum wage plus tips in order to remain in the industry, with the overwhelming majority of them citing low wages and tips as a core reason for finding new employment.

The ‘wage strike’ is being organized by One Fair Wage, a national nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of tipped subminimum wage workers, and the Fight for $15 coalition, just before the July 24th date, which marks 12 years since the last increase to the federal minimum wage. 

WHERE: McDonald’s, 14142 Fordham, Detroit, MI
WHEN: Tuesday, July 20, 12:00pm EST
LOCAL CONTACT: Chantel Watkins, 313-623-9022

According to a report from One Fair Wage, 53% of all workers say they are considering leaving their restaurant jobs, with the overwhelming majority of them citing low wages and tips as a core reason for finding new employment. The report comes as restaurants (and other low wage paying businesses) across the country are reporting difficulty hiring new workers, with nearly 40% of restaurant companies saying they’re having trouble finding servers, cooks and other workers.

“The restaurant industry doesn’t have a worker shortage – it has a wage shortage. Tens of thousands of restaurant workers do not want to go back to work to earn poverty wages putting their lives on the line,” said Saru Jayaraman, President of One Fair Wage. “Now is the time to change that. With strikes taking place across the country this week, workers are demanding One Fair Wage – a full minimum wage wage with tips on top: the only way to put our nation back on the road to economic recovery and to ensure that restaurants and their workers can thrive as we rebuild our economy.”

The report, “It’s A Wage Shortage, Not A Worker Shortage: Why Michigan Restaurant Workers Are Leaving the Industry, and What Would Make Them Stay,” identifies how the core problem with restaurants recruiting workers isn’t the lack of workers available, but rather, the lack of workers who will go back to jobs that pay so little. The report finds that: 

  • 64% of Michigan workers are considering leaving their restaurant job with the pandemic. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of Michigan workers report that they are leaving restaurant jobs due to low wages and tips. ‘Low wages and tips’ was the most popular reason for leaving the industry, nearly 7 percentage points higher than the second most popular reason — COVID health risks.
  • The vast majority of all Michigan respondents (77%) report having a full, stable, livable wage would make them consider staying at their job. Again, ‘full, stable, livable wages’ was by far the most popular factor that workers reported would make them stay at their job, nearly 30 percentage points higher than the second most popular factor — better COVID safety measures.
  • Nearly 9 in 10 Michigan workers (89%) say their tips have decreased during the pandemic, and nearly three quarters (76%) say their tips are down 50% or more.
  • Michigan workers report leaving their restaurant jobs due to hostility and harassment from customers at a rate 24% higher than the national average.
  • 82% of Michigan workers reported coming into contact with maskless individuals at least once per shift. 62% know someone that has died from COVID. 
  • Women in Michigan were most than twice as likely as men to report a noticeable increase in the levels of sexual harassment during the pandemic (51% v 24%).

SEE THE FULL REPORT HERE: https://onefairwage.site/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/OFW_WageShortage_MI-1.pdf