University Press of Kentucky
Black Farmers Diminished, not Defeated
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KY — January 27, 2006 — Today we are
approaching the end of a story whose beginnings reach back
to the birth
of this country. Black Farmers in America, with photographs
by John Francis Ficara and an essay by Juan Williams, is
a visual document of the final generation of black family
In 1865, shortly after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated,
President Andrew Johnson
rescinded on the U.S. government’s promise of “forty acres and a
mule” for recently freed slaves who wished to continue working the land.
Despite this setback, thousands of black people turned to farming as a way
of life because it was the only professional skill they had acquired during
In farming their own land, these free men and women experienced for the first
time the dignity, self-sufficiency, and independence associated with an American
But the family farm itself was soon to be in danger. In 1920, African Americans
made up 14 percent of all farmers in the U.S., when farmers as a group represented
more than a quarter of the entire American labor force. Today, those numbers
have dwindled nearly to the vanishing point: black farmers now account for less
than one percent of all farmers, whose total share of the American labor force
is now less than three percent.
In his essay, Juan Williams outlines the human history of this decline: American
family farms were slowly but steadily consumed by farming corporations. But while
the U.S. Department of Agriculture made efforts to ease this transition to the
modern megafarm, black farmers consistently found themselves last in line for
aid. The average subsidy granted to each black farmer was recently found to be
one-third of the amount granted to each white farmer for the same period, despite
a much higher average income for white farmers. Institutional and individual
acts of racism have succeeded in driving blacks out of farming at a rate, by
a conservative estimate, at least ten times higher than the white attrition rate.
With their children so thoroughly discouraged by history from
staying in agriculture,
today’s black farmers effectively represent the last generation. But
those who remain have lived lives of extraordinary strength and struggle. In
John Francis Ficara began a four-year quest to capture the images for Black
Farmers in America, traveling throughout the southeastern United States to
record a vanishing
era. Ficara photographed the antiquated machinery, the beautiful and productive
land, the vigorous crops, and the farmers themselves, who embody all of these
John Francis Ficara is an international award-winning
photojournalist and documentary photographer who has worked for
Newsweek and several other national and international magazines.
Currently a freelance photographer, he lives near Washington, D.C.
Juan Williams is senior correspondent for NPR’s
Morning Edition and author of the bestselling book, Eyes on the
Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965 and the
widely acclaimed biography, Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary.
Williams has won numerous awards for his work, including an Emmy
award for TV documentary writing.
BLACK FARMERS IN AMERICA
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN FRANCIS FICARA ESSAY BY JUAN WILLIAMS
Publication Date: March 3, 2006
ISBN: 0-8131-2399 -2 ISBN-13: 978-0-8131-2399-8
University Press of Kentucky