March 01, 2007

Disaster Preparedness - No 40 Acres and No Mule

we're still under a tornado watch.

In November 1992, Melvin Bishop's farm in Georgia suffered severe damage from a tornado. After the storm, Bishop went to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to apply for disaster relief, an emergency loan, and an operating loan. For the next seven months, the local USDA office gave him the runaround. Finally, in May 1993, Bishop not only was denied the disaster relief he qualified for, he was also denied both loans. No reasons were given. Bishop, who is African-American, called his experience with the USDA "even more devastating than the tornado."

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In 1865, the US Congress approved the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery and, soon thereafter, passed the Freedmen's Bureau Act, which leased 40 acres of abandoned or confiscated Southern land to "every male citizen, whether refugee or freedman."

Unfortunately, these plans for the redistribution of Southern lands were never carried out. After the war, President Andrew Johnson returned the land to white aristocrats, ensuring the persistence of the South's semi-feudal economic order.

In 1920, nearly one million African-American farmers owned 14 percent of all US farms. By 1950, Black land ownership had declined to 12 million acres, and in 1969 it was down to 5.5 million acres -- a drop of 54 percent in just 20 years. Between 1982 and 1992, the number of black farmers in the US fell 43 percent -- from 33,250 to 18,816.

In 1990, African Americans made up roughly one percent of the nation's farmers and were disappearing at a rate almost five times greater than whites. In 1999, fewer than 18,000 out of 1.9 million US farmers were African Americans, and these farmers owned less than 1 million acres. A 1990 Congressional report warned that black farms were on the verge of extinction. It is now feared that, by the end of 2000, there may be no black-owned land in America.

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time for a checkup.

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