President Donald Trump, Dec 5, Valdosta, Ga. Credit: Fox News Channel screen shot

During his campaign rally in Valdosta, Georgia on Saturday, Donald Trump threw out a brief dog whistle to the state’s white farmers.

In an effort to scare voters about what would happen if Democrats won the Senate runoff elections in Georgia on January 5, Trump claimed that they would “take over your farm.” While it didn’t get a big reaction from the crowd, it is worth noting that agriculture is big business in Georgia—contributing over $70 billion a year to the state’s economy from over 40,000 farms flush with cotton, peanuts, corn, and other crops.

As is so often the case, the president was probably triggered to make the claim about farm takeovers by Tucker Carlson. On November 24, the Fox News host mentioned the Justice for Black Farmers Act. 

TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Sens. Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren, for example, unveiled something called the Justice for Black Farmers Act last week…If enacted as a law, it would create an agency devoted to, quote, “equitable land access.” What would they do? Well, the agency would spend up to $8 billion buying private land and doling it out on the basis of race. The Robert Mugabe plan — ooh, that sounds like a good idea.

Carlson’s viewers are probably not aware of the contradiction between an initiative that involves buying land to make it available to Black farmers and “the Robert Mugabe plan.” But here is what Human Rights Watch wrote about the so-called “land reform program” championed by the ruthless President of Zimbabwe.

The “fast track” land resettlement program implemented by the government of Zimbabwe over the last two years has led to serious human rights violations…The stated aim of the fast track program is to take land from rich white commercial farmers for redistribution to poor and middle-income landless black Zimbabweans. Under the program, however, ruling party militias, often led by veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation war, have carried out serious acts of violence against farm owners, farm workers, and, using occupied farms as bases for attacks, against residents of surrounding areas. The police have done little to halt such violence, and in some cases are directly implicated in the abuses. 

Needless to say, no Democratic Senator is sponsoring legislation to empower Black militias to violently confiscate land from white farmers.  

As with all efforts to address systemic racism, it is important to know some history in order to understand why these Democratic Senators have proposed a Justice for Black Farmers Act. Vann Newkirk documented the story for The Atlantic in an article titled, “The Great Land Robbery: The shameful story of how 1 million black families have been ripped from their farms.”

The land was wrested first from Native Americans, by force. It was then cleared, watered, and made productive for intensive agriculture by the labor of enslaved Africans, who after Emancipation would come to own a portion of it. Later, through a variety of means—sometimes legal, often coercive, in many cases legal and coercive, occasionally violent—farmland owned by black people came into the hands of white people…

A war waged by deed of title has dispossessed 98 percent of black agricultural landowners in America. They have lost 12 million acres over the past century. But even that statement falsely consigns the losses to long-ago history. In fact, the losses mostly occurred within living memory, from the 1950s onward.

Discriminatory policies and practices at the Department of Agriculture played a major role in this loss of land, with Black farmers being excluded from access to disaster relief, loans, and grants that were otherwise made available to white farmers. 

Democratic Presidents Clinton and Obama settled claims from Black farmers robbed by these USDA policies. But the Justice for Black Farmers Act takes things a step further by providing land grants to create a new generation of Black farmers. The key provision of the bill establishes a fund of $8 billion annually to buy farmland on the open market and grant it to new and existing Black farmers, with the goal of making 20,000 grants per year over nine years. 

Of course, right-wingers will howl that such a land grant is pure socialism. One response would be to refer them to the estimated 93 million Americans who are descendants of those who benefited from the Homestead Act of 1862. If Senators Booker and Warren are socialists, so was Abraham Lincoln. 

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.