Cotton, one of the staple crops grown in North Carolina throughout history, is still grown in fields all around Tillery, NC
“40 Acres and a Mule” is what many emancipated slave descendants and sharecroppers were promised during the New Deal, or Resettlement period, under President Roosevelt. Resettlement communities were created throughout the South, and Tillery, North Carolina was the largest Black Resettlement Community in the country.
It is now home to Black farmers and elders who can remember moving here to farm with their families so many years ago. It was my first stop in North Carolina after leaving Virginia.
One of my favorite sit-downs so far, is without a doubt, my time with Mr. Whitaker. He is a sweet and strong-willed 93 year-old hog farmer and WWII veteran who rebelled against the New Deal system by turning down the offer of 40 acres and a mule and saved up his own money to buy himself land, which he still owns today.
Gary Grant of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association shows me documentation over the decades-long struggle for Black farmers
I also sat with Gary Grant of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association who, in addition to gifting me with his infectious laugh, imparted upon me history and knowledge on the struggle of the Black farmer; stories of struggle which can only be told by those who have really lived them, as he and so many members of Tillery have.
Mr. Haywood Harrel a 2,000-acre farmer in Tillery, NC
I am not solely focusing on organic and sustainable farmers in The Color of Food / photo documentary. And that’s because, sometimes, history, resources, and knowledge base guide a 2nd and 3rd-generation farmer’s business. That’s an important piece that I want to recognize when looking at farmers of color. No matter how uncomfortable it made me to see Mr. Harrel wearing a Monsanto cap when he greeted me on his farm, next to his fields of wheat and Round-Up Ready corn, I listened to him talk about the support and resources available to large, conventional farmers like him through Monsanto and the USDA, and I could see how some farmers choose to go that route. When the alternative is getting zero support while fighting to keep your land and desperately find a market, who can blame them? The problem lies not entirely in the farmer’s choice, but in between the rock and the hard place that government funding and corporate push is forcing them to be.
This last stop before leaving Tillery left me reflecting on the rich history of defiant Black farmers like Mr. Whitaker, but also on the bitter irony of today’s Black farmers, like Mr. Harrel, working to put money in the hands of Agribusiness giants. A relationship all too reminiscent of sharecropping in my opinion.
Check out this video made about the history of Tillery by the Concerned Citizens of Tillery!