April V. Taylor
It’s no secret that there is a significant and widening wealth gap between Black and white Americans; the gap serves as one of the main arguments in the case for reparations for slavery. As a result of slavery, few Black families are able to amass enough wealth to pass down any generational wealth that would allow Black families to at least put a dent in the overall gap. Highlighting just how drastic the gap is are statistics in the recent Department of Agriculture report “Who Owns the Land.” It reveals that literally a handful (five) of white landowners own more rural land than ALL of Black America combined.
The five largest white land owners in the U.S. own some 9 million acres of land compared to all of Black America owning less than 8 million acres. The contrasting picture comes into clearer focus when the monetary value of that land is considered. Coming in at less than one percent of the total rural land in the U.S., Black Americans own land worth a total of $14 billion while white Americans combined own 856 million acres, more than 98 percent of U.S. land, worth more than one trillion dollars.
While those numbers are bad enough, a recent Huffington Post article points out that the numbers have in all likelihood gotten worse since the release of the report. To break the numbers down even further, consider that CNN founder Ted Turner owns over 2 million acres of land himself, which amounts to almost 25 percent of rural land owned by Blacks.
The numbers do not lie; instead, they reveal ugly truths about how inequality in America, both historic and current, plays out in the lives of ordinary American families who are simply trying to achieve the American dream of upward economic mobility. According to the USDA Economic Research Service’s research:
“Of all private U.S. agricultural land, Whites account for 96 percent of the owners, 97 percent of the value, and 98 percent of the acres… Blacks possess 7.8 million acres “of overall rural land” … For a century after the end of slavery, Black farmers tended to be tenants rather than owners. Since the early 1970s, activists and scholars have warned that the rural Black community was in danger of losing its entire land base. Land ownership by Black farmers peaked in 1910 at 16-19 million acres, according to the Census of Agriculture. However, the 1997 census reports that Black farmers owned only 1.5 million acres “of farmable land.””
Adding insult to injury is the fact that much of this land was not acquired legally in a way that Black people were compensated. Instead, the bulk of the land Black people lost during the 20th century was stolen from them. A heartbreaking and devastating trend during the 19th and 20th centuries saw Black families robbed of millions of dollars in generational wealth by white communities who violently forced their Black neighbors to flee town, as discussed in the piece, “8 Heartbreaking Cases Where Land Was Stolen From Black Americans Through Racism, Violence and Murder.”