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The Great Black Dispossession

May 20, 2024

On December 8, 2020, US President-elect Joe Biden chose Tom Vilsack to head the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Vilsack had served as USDA Secretary under President Obama. Black farmers were outraged. One farmer, Michael Stovall, founder of Independent Black Farmers, said of Vilsack, “When it comes to civil rights, the rights of people, he’s not for that. It’s very disappointing they even want to consider him coming back after what he has done to limited resource farmers and what he continues to do to destroy lives.” Black farmers’ disappointment with Vilsack’s selection was compounded by the fact that Biden’s campaign specifically courted Black farmers more than any in recent years. Biden’s decision, however, can be seen as the continuation of century-long US agricultural policies that have played an instrumental role in one of the greatest overlooked civil rights issues in American history: the loss of Black farmland in the United States in the 20th and 21st centuries.