Systems of Oppression: The Family Farm

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Enough, you princes of Israel! Stop your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Quit robbing and cheating my people out of their land. Stop expelling them from their homes, says the Sovereign Lord. Ezekiel  45:9

The context of the above scripture is Israel and the dividing of the promised land. God warned the rulers over His people to do what was just and right.  Throughout history and today, the  people within the systems that oppress have driven human beings out of their rightful land, using the tools of that system to do so. Something as idyllic and American as family farms should never be linked with oppression, yet they are.  The next story we will explore has to do with one family farm that was a young man’s dream turned into a nightmare.  I take this story from a podcast called Seeing White, on Scene on Radio  with John Biewen as host.

Statistic:  Today more than nine out of ten farmers are white.  Why is this, when “the nation’s economy was built largely on Black farm labor–in bondage for hundreds of years, followed by a century of sharecropping and tenant farming.” (John Biewen, Losing Ground)  After the Civil War, the promise was made to give the freed slaves 40 acres and a mule to get their new lives started.  What happened?  The promise, like many others, was broken.  But Black farmers persevered and just a century ago, African American families owned 15 million acres.  Unfortunately, through the 20th century, Black farmers lost their land faster than whites and now are fewer than 1% of American farm families.  Hasn’t this been the story for Black people in every sector of society since Emancipation?  Broken promises,  all our homes and livelihoods stolen for no other reason than the color of our skin.  The story of Eddie Wise, his wife Dorothy, and their dream of owning a farm, ends with heartbreak.

Eddie Wise was born in the forties in North Carolina and had a lifelong dream of owning a farm.  His ancestors were all sharecroppers.  He wanted to own land and make a living for himself and his family.  When he was eighteen he joined the army and it became his career.  Thirty years after he joined, he got his own farm and soon married Dorothy.

On January 20th, 2016, it was the beginning of the end for Eddie And Dorothy’s dream.

For many years they fought against discrimination in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. US Marshals came that day to seize his property and all he owned, even his beloved dogs.  

It all began in 1991, when Eddie and Dorothy found the farm they wanted and went to the USDA for a loan through its lending arm, the Farmers’ Home Administration or F.H.A.  It took five years after that initial visit for their loan to be approved.  They were turned down several times with the excuse that the F.H.A. was out of money. Eventually the loan was secured and they were able to purchase the land. The Wises also needed capital to buy hogs and repair the building where the hogs would be housed. That loan was approved, but it took seven months to actually receive the money.  They weren’t able to do the repairs before the hogs came.  Needless to say, he lost most of his herd because they didn’t have a proper building and they froze to death.  They never recovered from the loss of 400 hogs and struggled to keep the farm afloat on their pensions and social security checks. 

The Wises loan was taken over by a Black loan officer (the only Black loan officer in the state) named Carl Bond, who worked with them for several years, assisting them with the loan applications.  Before Carl, they were consistently denied assistance and their work undermined. Soon the payments overwhelmed them and they were put on the road to foreclosure. This case and many others illustrate how racism within any system can find ways to circumvent discrimination laws to oppress people of color. Eddie wanted to leave the farm to his son, but there was nothing to leave.

Where are the Wises now?  They live with Eddie’s sister in eastern North Carolina.

The stress of the years took its toll on Dorothy.  Her diabetes grew worse and she had both legs amputated below the knee.  She lies with her eyes closed most of the time in a rehab center, responding only to Eddie when he comes for a visit. 

John Biewen states at the end of this segment:  “Given the history of Black people on America’s farms and plantations, building the country’s wealth for little or no reward, isn’t there a special, cruel irony if a branch of the US Government  seemingly goes out of its way to drive one more Black family off the land?”