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IRH Lecture: “We Stayed: Agriculture, Activism, and the Black Southern Rural Families Who Fought to Keep the Land”
February 15, 2021 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Monica M. White
Race, Ethnicity, and Indigeneity Fellow (2020–21)
Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, UW-Madison
The scholarship on the Great Migration concentrates on those who left the South, overlooking the millions of African American farmer families who stayed. Similarly, the history of the Civil Rights movement has focused on the stories of preachers and public speakers, college students, lunch counters and freedom songs. The contributions, voices and significance of southern, rural, Black farmers have never fully been examined. Black farmers provided lodging, food, land used as lien to get activists out of jail. It was their pre-existing social network that served as the method by which information was transmitted through the south, especially for political organizing. Without them, the Civil Rights Movement might never have happened.
Through life history interviews, archives and family storytelling as method, this project analyzes the Paris family as a case study of Black farmers’ contribution to the Civil Rights/Black Power movement. This family’s three generations of activists stayed in the south and worked the land while organizing for change. George H., the first Black USDA loan officer taught his sons, George M. and Wendell, daughter-in-law, Alice the importance of both agriculture and activism. They, in turn, taught the next generation. Their story offers a lens to understand social movement activism across the lifespan, intergenerational activism, and how agriculture was used as a strategy of resistance and resilience.
Monica M. White is an associate professor of Environmental Justice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She holds a joint appointment in the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology and the Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies. She is the first Black woman to earn tenure in both the College of Agricultural Life Sciences (1989) and the Nelson Institute (1970) at UW-Madison. She is also the past President of the Board of Directors of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Her research investigates Black, Latinx, and Indigenous grassroots organizations that are engaged in the development of sustainable, community-based food systems as a strategy to respond to issues of hunger and food inaccessibility. Her first book, Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement, published with University of North Carolina Press, received the 2020 First Book Award from the Association for the Study of Food in Society and the 2019 Eduardo Bonilla Silva Outstanding Book Award from the Division of Race and Ethnic Minorities Section of the Society for the Study of Social Problems.
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