Is the ‘Justice for Black Farmers’ Bill Enough Reparations for America’s Racist History? by Elizabeth Bambury

After the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves, the United States came close to giving reparations that could have resulted in significantly increasing generational wealth among Black Americans. The policy would have awarded 40 acres of land to all former slave families and descendants, with the later addition of a mule.[1] It was first proposed as Field Order No.15 by William T. Sherman, a Union General during the Civil War.[2] This order would redistribute some of the 465 million acres of Confederate-owned land to former slaves.[3] He collaborated with Black leaders in the South, some of whom had been slaves themselves. However, this radical proposal was never adopted because Andrew Johnson, a sympathizer of the Confederacy, came into power. He rejected giving land to former slaves despite white Americans still having easy access to cheap land with the Homestead Act. Although long overdue, there has been greater pressure for the government to pay reparations to Black Americans and the Justice for Black Farmer Act could be an important piece in that puzzle.

The Justice for Black Farmers Act was introduced by Sen. Booker and cosponsored by Sen. Warren, and Sen. Gillibrand in November 2020. It is meant to correct “historic discrimination within the U.S. Department of Agriculture…that has caused Black farmers to lose millions of acres of farmland and…hundreds of billions of dollars of inter-generational wealth”.[4] The U.S. government has had many chances to rectify their sins against Black Americans, and this is a part of recent proposals to do that. Another important piece of legislation for Black farmers in the U.S. was the stimulus package for COVID-19, called the American Rescue Plan. This bill allots $10.4 billion to agricultural workers overall, with about half going to disadvantaged farmers, an estimated fourth of which are Black.[5] Under the Justice for Black Farmers Act, the USDA would provide land grants to Black farmers, allowing around 49,000 farmers to acquire up to 160 acres of land each.[6] As of 2017, Black-owned farms were 132 acres on average, compared to white-owned farms that averaged at 431 acres.[7] By bridging that massive gap in farmland ownership, the bill could pave way to equalize the generational wealth of white and Black farmers.

Black Americans face particular obstacles in farming, which has led to farming being the second whitest job in the United States (96.3% white), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2020.[8] Chris Newman, a Black farmer from Charlottesville, Virginia explains that farming saved him from a life of poor health, something that he wants to see for more of his community.[9] Fresh and local produce is simply not accessible for many Americans because it is so much more costly than the packaged and preservative-filled alternatives. Newman hopes that if more people of color were to grow their own food “they can feel the same connection to the land and health transformation that he has”.[10] The Justice for Black Farmers Act would make farming a viable option for Black Americans and could cultivate accessibility to healthier foods.

Although this act would be historical in finally giving reparations to Black farmers in America, it does not benefit farmworkers or any other descendants of slaves. To properly pay for the racist and abusive history of the United States, the Justice for Black Farmers Act needs to be passed and enacted in conjunction with monetary reparations for all Black Americans. This act is reminiscent of the 40 acres and a mule proposal in 1865, however farmland is not the most valuable thing a Black American can be granted by the U.S. government today. Monetary reparations would allow for Black Americans to have complete agency in their repayment which could come in many forms. William Darity, an economist from Duke University has emphasized how “direct payments must be a major component” of any reparations plan to people who are descendants of slaves.[11] The Justice for Black Farmers Act is a necessary, but by no means sufficient step in the right direction, especially if it encourages further reparations for Black Americans in the future.


[1] Louis Gates Jr., Henry. “The Truth Behind ‘40 Acres and a Mule.’” Public Broadcasting Service,

[2] Louis Gates Jr., Henry. “The Truth Behind ‘40 Acres and a Mule.’”

[3] Darity, William, and A. Mullen. “Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century.” From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century, University of North Carolina Press, 2020, pp. 156,

[4] Booker, Warren, Gillibrand Announce Comprehensive Bill to Address the History of Discrimination in Federal Agricultural Policy. 19 Nov. 2020,

[5] Reiley, Laura. 2021. “Relief Bill Is Most Significant Legislation for Black Farmers since Civil Rights Act, Experts Say.” Washington Post, March 8, 2021.

[6] “U.S. Census of Agriculture: Black Producers.” 2017. USDA.

[7] U.S. Census of Agriculture: Race/Ethnicity/Gender Profile. USDA, 2017,,_Ethnicity_and_Gender_Profiles/cpd99000.pdf.

[8] “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.” 2020. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

[9] Yu, Alan. 2017. “Black Farmers Are Sowing the Seeds of Health and Empowerment.” National Public Radio, December 16, 2017.

[10] Yu, Alan. 2017. “Black Farmers Are Sowing the Seeds of Health and Empowerment.” National Public Radio

[11] King, Noel, and William Darity. “From Here to Equality” Author Makes A Case and A Plan, For Reparations. 17 June 2020,

One thought on “Is the ‘Justice for Black Farmers’ Bill Enough Reparations for America’s Racist History? by Elizabeth Bambury

  1. Really well written blog, Elizabeth! Your summary and analysis of the Justice for Black Farmers Act really gave me a sense of its importance and highlighted the historical and current context it is operating within. I looked into the details of the act, and I was especially interested in the idea of providing training to experienced and new farmers. Specifically, the bill would establish the Farm Conservation Corps, which would provide young adults from socially disadvantaged groups with the necessary skills for a productive career in farming. I think this is an essential part to the bill because land alone is not enough to start a career in farming. I wonder if they would also be giving an initial stipend for purchase of equipment, seeds, and livestock? Overall, great start of an important conversation. I will definitely be tracking how this bill progresses in Congress.

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