The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Dr. Monica M. White, at the start of her impassioned lecture.
On Saturday, June 15th, Monica M. White, Ph.D gave a lecture at the Detroit Public Library Main Branch on the subject of "Black Farmers/Black Freedom." Dr. White presented some of the research and outline for her forthcoming book on the history of black farmers in America, agriculture as a positive resistance movement within the black community, and general considerations around the connection between land, food and freedom as related to the community at large. In addition to her role as Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. White serves as Board President for the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) and emphasized throughout her presentation her deep continued connection and fidelity to Detroit. The mood in the room was one of intense unity of purpose among a diverse crowd.
Many luminaries and notable figures in the Detroit urban agricultural movement were on hand to support Dr. White and hear about her findings, including DBCFSN members, D-Town farmers and folks from The Greening of Detroit.
The information presented by Dr. White was well-researched and comprehensive, for some an awakening, with an attitude of both outcry and celebration of the struggle around black land rights, the challenges faced by black farmers and landholders attempting to stay afloat in an already difficult profession, and some philosophical considerations regarding the perception of the northern migration for factory jobs, wherein a number of black farmers relinquished their holdings. Dr. White suggests that the move to the North was not the joyful “move-on-up” to better circumstances, as it is often characterized, but a squeeze play forcing black families to move where their labor was needed through extreme financial pressure and impediments to their success in agriculture.
Dr. White before a slide of Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist who helped to organize one of the most successful agricultural cooperatives.
Dr. White is also exploring the historical and migratory connection between Detroit and Lowndes County, Ga.
Dr. White emphasized the need for the contemporary movement to create a “lion language,” as opposed to the language of the “hunters,” meaning that the frame around the relationship between farming and the black community must shift from sharecropping/tenant farming/slavery to one of reconnection and resistance. After such an uplifting lecture, I can think of no better candidate to author this lion language and look forward to her forthcoming publication and related activities, more of which can be explored here. Dr. White is an inspiring figure and a powerful illustration in the beauty of a woman who has found her calling.
For more information on the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, visit the organization's website.