‘Freedom Farmers’ Tells the History of Black Farmers Uniting Against Racism

December 20, 2018

When Monica M. White was growing up, her family would travel from Detroit to visit her grandparents in Eden, North Carolina, where they kept a small store in their living room. The store came with the ever-present promise of sweets, her mother’s warnings not to eat too much junk, and her grandparents’ determination to slip her snacks nevertheless.

It was only recently—when the sociologist and University of Wisconsin professor was researching for her new book Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and Black Freedom Movement—that White’s aunt explained the store was more than just her own personal candy jar.

“It was called The Community Store. My grandfather, Kenneth, along with eight other Black farmers, co-owned a car and the store was their co-op … I knew my granddaddy was a farmer, but I had no idea he was a member of a cooperative,” said White. “To hear about the collective … I still get goosebumps even just mentioning it, because it shows the serendipity of how we study who we are.”

Freedom Farmers tells the story of how Black farmers in the Deep South and Detroit—independent farmers who owned their property, sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and urban gardeners alike—banded together to counter white racism, fight economic deprivation in an age of increasing mechanization and commercial agriculture, and articulate a different vision of the future.

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