By bridging the racial wealth divide, we can reduce the economic inequality that’s holding down our entire country.
The five largest landowners in America, all white, own more rural land than all of black America combined.
This tiny group, a band that would fit comfortably in any mid-size sedan, owns more than nine million acres while all of the African American population combined, over 40 million people, own just eight million acres.
The most recent report released by the United States Department of Agriculture, Who Owns the Land, offers these statistics and more as it exposes America’s massive disparity in land ownership.
African Americans, despite making up 13 percent of the population, own less than 1 percent of rural land in the country. The combined value of this land: $ 14 billion.
White Americans, by comparison, own more than 98 percent of U.S. land amounting to 856 million acres with a total worth of over $1 trillion.
CNN founder Ted Turner alone owns over 2 million acres of land according to Forbes magazine. In other words, one person owns nearly a quarter of what all black Americans combined own in rural land.
Turner’s two million acres are spread across New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Florida, and several other states. Combined, his land holdings constitute a landmass three times greater than the state of Rhode Island.
The racial disparity in rural land ownership has deep historical roots based not just in chattel slavery, but in the post-slavery period as well. After emancipation, black farmers tended to be tenants of wealthy white landowners working for sub-poverty wages and doing mostly subsistence farming. Average land ownership for black farmers peaked in 1910, according to the Agriculture Census, with about 16 to 19 acres. In contrast, black farmers owned just 1.5 million acres of arable land in 1997.
In many cases, the land African Americans lost over the 20th century was expropriated in one form or another and not sold freely. In the 2007 documentary, Banished, filmmaker Marco Williams describes numerous examples of white mobs forcing out African-American farmers and taking their land. This outright stealing, intimidation, and violence had a devastating impact on black wealth ownership.
Antonio Moore, an attorney based in Los Angeles, is one of the producers of the documentary Freeway: Crack in the System. He has contributed pieces to the Grio, Huffington Post, and Inequality.org on the topics of race, mass incarceration, and economics.