Black Farmers: Historic Discrimination in North America

Written and edited by Christabel Menezes

Sharecropping and Black Land Acquisition (1868-1900)

Sharecropping: formerly enslaved farmers were leased small plots of land by giving a portion of the crop yield back to the landowner. This resulted in extreme power imbalances between landlords and leaser, often putting Black farmers in severe debt.

“Sharecropping was like slavery under another name”.

1860s: Economic changes to the agroindustry made sharecroppers start growing cash crops (tobacco) instead of produce for sustenance.

Homestead Act of 1862: 160 acres of land granted Americans who worked for 5 years. 1.5 million families were given this crucial economic foundation, but only about 5,000 of those families were Black.

USDA Policies

Cooperative Extension Service (1914): Segregated services that offered poor services to Black farmers. Service workers were unable to help black sharecroppers and tenant farmers if white landlords objected to the black service workers’ presence on their land.

Agricultural Adjustment Act (1933): Govt. tried to stabilize commodity prices by reducing production. Lack of outreach to tenant farmers caused Black farmers to be exploited by white farmers.

Federal Emergency Relief Administration (1933): Black individuals received 20% less aid than white farmers, despite getting paid less.

Farm Security Administration (1937): allocated loan and grant funds in a discriminatory manner towards Black farmers.

1939: Black farmers in the South received 23 percent of the allocated standard rehabilitation loans but made up 37 percent of all low-income farmers.

1940: Black farmers were 35 percent of tenant farmers in the South but only received 21 percent of tenant-purchase loans.

1965: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights finds USDA discriminated against Black farmers when providing loans and conservation payments.

1981: USDA report notes that Black and minority farmers are “disproportionately represented in poverty groups” and that these types of farms have less access to needed credit.

1983: Ronald Reagan closed the USDA Office of Civil Rights as part of that year’s budget cuts after Commission on Civil Rights report found examples of rampant racism throughout the USDA.

1996: Consultant D.J. Miller report finds Black farmers don’t get share of subsidies, payments or loans.

Pigford v. USDA (1999): Black farmers owed $1.03 billion. More than 22,000 Black farmers seek claims, but only 15,645 receive modest payments.

Black Farmers in Canada

Black farmers were first documented from Oklahoma to the Prairies in 1905, and increased significantly during the Jim Crow era.

Western Canadians were overwhelmingly against Black migration and the following interventions were implemented:

  1. Delayed entries at Canada-USA border.
  2. Deployment of Canadian agents to Oklahoma to discourage migration.
  3. 1911 Order-in-Council P.C. 1911-1324 Ban on Black Immigration into Canada.

Black Farmers Today

Only 45,508 (1.3%) of farmers are Black in the USA. There are around 139 Black owned farms in the USA currently, which make up only about 0.4% of total farm acreage. Only 0.5% of total US farm sales are from Black-owned farms.


Policy Options

  1. Government-funded grants for Black farmers.
  2. Granting land from historically Black settlements back to Black Farmers.
  3. Protect heirs’ property.
  4. Expand technical assistance to farmers of color.
  5. Commit to oversight and regular audits.
  6. Conduct Canadian research to analyze the prevalence of discrimination and inequalities.

Duke Sanford World Food Policy Center. (n.d.). Sharecropping, Black Land Acquisition, and White Supremacy (1868-1900) | Duke Sanford World Food Policy Center. Retrieved February 8, 2022, from
Southern Historical Collection. (1966). Sharecropping contract dated Dec 5, 1866, Cameron Family Papers #133. Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Holley, D. (1971). The Negro in the New Deal Resettlement Program. Agricultural History, 45(3), 179–193.
Tyler, S. S. & Moore, E. A. (2013) “Plight of Black Farmers in the Context of USDA Farm Loan Programs: A Research Agenda for the Future,” Professional Agricultural Workers Journal: Vol. 1: No. 1, 6.
Environmental Working Group. (n.d.). Timeline: Black farmers and the USDA, 1920 – Present. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a long history of discrimination against Black farmers. Retrieved February 8, 2022, from
Castro, A., & Willingham, C. Z. (2019, April 3). Progressive governance can turn the tide for Black Farmers. Retrieved February 8, 2022, from
Shepard, R. B. (n.d.). African Canadians. Retrieved February 8, 2022, from
Yarhi, E. (2016, September 30). Order-in-council P.C. 1911-1324 – The Proposed Ban on Black Immigration to Canada. Retrieved February 8, 2022, from
Igbavboa, H. & Elliot, S. (n.d.). The Challenge of Food Sovereignty for Black Farmers in the Greater Toronto Area. Ryerson University. Retrieved February 8, 2022, from

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: