Bower Hill has supported Bread for the World for many years. Bread for the World is a collective Christian voice urging our nation’s decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad. In the past we have written letters to our congresspersons to advocate for legislation supporting food assistance. At the beginning of May, the Adult Ed and Mission Committees sponsored a Racial Wealth Gap Simulation event that was developed by Bread for the World. This newsletter and future newsletters will include information from this simulation we will call Minding the Gap. We will also include a section called Mending the Gap where we will suggest possible things we can do to mend the racial wealth gap in our country.
Minding the Gap: Andrew Johnson’s Land Policies and Sharecropping (1865-1880)
After the Civil War, only 30,000 African Americans owned small plots of land, compared to 4 million who did not because an 1865 federal law rescinded the government’s promise of 40 acres of land for former slaves. These 4 million blacks largely resorted to renting the farmland of their previous master in exchange for a “share” of their crop. This system of “sharecropping” tied farmers to their former master because they were legally obligated to BUY all farming materials (usually at higher prices) and SELL their farming crops solely to their former master (usually at lower prices).
Rescinding the 40-acre promise to recently freed slaves prevented them from becoming fully independent from their former masters. They were legally free, but they were prevented from becoming financially free. If the 4 million people forced into sharecropping had owned their land, they could have started earning income and eventually would have been able to put aside assets for the future. But sharecropping’s continual debt cycle made it nearly impossible to get enough to eat, let alone earn money. Sharecropping continued for three generations. These families were often hungry and/or poorly nourished, far more likely to live in poverty than white people, and far less able to accumulate wealth.
Mending the Gap: Where can I get more information?
1. O’Brien Wagner, Nancy. “Slavery by Another Name: History Background.” PBS. Twin Cities
Public Television, Inc, 2012. https://bento.cdn.pbs.org/hostedbento-prod/filer_public/SBAN/
2. History Channel. “Sharecropping.” History.com. A E Networks, 2010. http://www.history.com/
What can we do now to help Black farmers?
There is an NPR story (4 mins long) from 2021 about debt relief for black farmers https://www.npr.org/2021/06/04/1003313657/the-usda-is-set-to-give-black-farmers-debt-relief-theyve-heard-that-one-before and a New York Times article on how this debt relief has been blocked/ tied up since 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/21/us/politics/black-farmers-debt-relief.html
There is also the National Black Farmer’s Association website where you can learn more and donate. National Black Farmers Association