As Black farmers, activists and even some in the government work to make changes and reparations for the farmland lost by Black farmers during the 20th century, one number is often tossed around: 90 percent. That’s how much of the Black-owned farmland in the United States was lost during the 20th century.
But there are many other numbers involved here. A new study, led by Dania Francis of the University of Massachusetts Boston, analyzed USDA data to attempt to figure out the monetary value lost as a result of, largely, racist institutions and weird legal obstacles.
Francis looked into USDA census data ranging from 1922 to 1997, aiming to find, according to Reuters, the present-day value of all the acreage of land that was lost. The figure she arrived at is $326 billion, but even that, Francis acknowledges, is a very conservative estimate of even merely the monetary damage done to these Black farmers.
In an article for the New Republic, Francis and co-authors note that the value of the lost farmland doesn’t account for the fact that farmland is, as Bill Gates well knows, an incredibly good investment. “Developers have turned some of this land, like in Hilton Head, South Carolina, into incredibly expensive residential and commercial properties,” they write.
The current USDA, run by Tom Vilsack, has at least acknowledged the USDA’s centuries-long history of discrimination against Black farmers, although attempts to actually right the wrongs of the past have not been especially successful, with payments stalled owing to lawsuits from right-wing groups.