Nicodemus, Kansas was once a thriving Black agricultural town, home to hundreds of Black farmers during the early 1900s.
They were a part of a group of formerly enslaved people known as the “exodusters” who migrated west in hopes of leaving poverty and racism behind them and farming their own land.
In 1910, Black farmers comprised 14% of the farming population in the US. Today, they make up only 1.4%.
The death of Gil Alexander left Nicodemus with no active Black farmers, and his nephew, Lateef Dowdell told ABC News they’ve faced many obstacles in an attempt to save their family’s farmland.
“I definitely feel it was discrimination” Lateef said of the US Department of Agriculture’s lack of help. “All they really wanted to do really is focus on the farmers that were assisting Gil as far as sharecropping. But as far as helping me, no.”
Lateef and his wife, Carrie, left their jobs in Arizona in 2017 to return to Kansas in the hopes of saving the farm. The banks, however, proceeded with land foreclosure, and the USDA cited the couple’s lack of farming experience as the reason why they couldn’t offer help.
“Once Gil passed, it just didn’t seem like they cared anymore,” Lateef said. “They just wanted to get the land and move on.”
Lateef was able to keep his uncle’s home and the original 120-acre that wasn’t included in the bank loan. He operates a restaurant in nearby Hill City, and the acres he was able to save sits idle.
During the early years of migration to the west, the Black farmers of Nicodemus owned farms spanning more than 1,000 acres. Now, Black farmers say ever-changing markets and climate are all impacting their success, but it’s the racial discrimination at the federal level that’s pushing them off their land.
Black farmers report having less access to technical support and credit than white farms, which impacts their ability to operate their farms, purchase updated equipment, or expand their farms. Black farmers who do receive federal funds say the money came too late or had stipulations on how they could use the money.
The descendents of the original Black farmers of Nicodemus who still have farmland have leased it to white farmers due to an inability or unwillingness to secure loans. Farmers who’ve passed away couldn’t leave it to their heirs because of mounting debts.
“There has been a lot of Black land lost in Kansas in these last 21 years –– and it is devastating,” JohnElla Holmes, Nicodemus resident and executive director of the Kansas Black Farmers Association.
To rectify centuries of systematic mistreatment, Black farmers say they’re hoping Congress can bring back legislation to offer protection and right wrongs. In November, the Justice for Black Farmers Act was introduced to protect Black farmers from land loss, and provide funds and changes to the USDA’s civil rights protocols.
“Nicodemus is a clear picture that we are facing extinction as active farmers in this country,” Virginia farmer and President of the National Black Farmers Association John Boyd, Jr. said. “So here today in 2021 that there is no one Black farmer that is tilling his own soil and pulling his plow and disc harrowing the ground is disheartening.”
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