• Ken Ilgunas

Land ownership inequality

Andrew W. Kahrl wrote an Op-Ed for NYT about whites dispossessing blacks of land:


But in addition to invoking the 40 acres black people never got, the reparations movement today should be talking about the approximately 11 million acres black people had but lost, in many cases through fraud, deception and outright theft, much of it taken in the past 50 years.


I wish I’d had this research when I was writing This Land Is Our Land. I knew that African Americans’ land had been unjustly taken, but I didn’t know how much. These numbers add legitimacy to the claim that a lot of land in the U.S. has been acquired through fraud, deception, and theft. I argue in my book that a “right to roam” is one small but significant way to correct historic wrongs, as it has in Scotland (but of course I’m not suggesting that a right to roam should take the place of necessary and proper reparations).

I think the article is great as it is, but it might have been even more effective if we could have seen up-to-date statistics that show the harmful legacy of land dispossession, in terms of present-day land ownership inequality. Fortunately, I at least have that in my book.


According to the USDA’s 2014 Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land Survey, “In terms of race, 97 percent of principal landlords are white. Two percent are Hispanic, regardless of race. Landlords who are white accounted for 98 percent of rent received, expenses, and the value of land and buildings, and 99 percent of debt, in 2014.”


The exact quote from my book:


According to the USDA’s ownership survey in 1999, only 3.4 million of us (or 1.2 percent of the population) owned agricultural land, which makes up 49 percent of the land in the Lower Forty-​Eight states. It looks even worse when you factor in the low levels of ethnic minority land ownership. Ethnic minorities make up 38 percent of the US population, but, according to the USDA’s 2014 Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land Survey, 97 percent of agricultural landlords are white. This means an overwhelmingly white 1 percent of the population has the right to exclude 99 percent of Americans from 49 percent of the land in the Lower Forty-​Eight states.


One bright note to end on… Although whites dominate agricultural land ownership, there is at least an uptick in black ownership of land in the last few years. African Americans have increased their ownership of agricultural land by 12 percent since 2007, according to a 2014 study.