America’s “Great South”, one of dragging vowels, hospitality, great food and faith. But also a bitter South, an African-American belt of inequalities marked by history and racism, where strained relations between communities mobilize Donald Trump’s electoral base. The duty is on the road to understand these divisions and shed light on the changes underway. Now, in the wake of recent unrest, an African-American couple from Mississippi are reclaiming farmland to free themselves.
As soon as you leave the small town of Starkville in central Mississippi, you see white tufts of cotton growing in the fields that have already split their bolls. About ten kilometers further on, a mobile home park stretches out, with a few gutted car wrecks. A little further on, the asphalt on the road turns to red soil. The man who welcomes us to his home says the words ” Mississippi Goddam! In the first two minutes of our meeting.
The clichés so quickly exhausted, it will be easier to rethink his frame of mind, since the farm of Teresa Ervin-Springs and Kevin Springs is rather the reverse of the stereotype: as African-Americans, the earth does not enslave them, she must free them.
Former city dwellers, having lived in dense and urban Fort Lauderdale, Florida, moreover, they had no plans to “come and get lost in this cursed land,” says Springs. After a childhood “full of trauma,” says Mme Ervin-Springs, both have become community workers with the prison population, men and women in prison or in the process of rehabilitation.
In 2016, Kevin inherited nearly 30 hectares, the equivalent of 42 soccer fields, from his stepfather, Archie Thompson, who himself inherited them from his father. Kevin had been there for a couple of summers: “I hated the place. The only memory I had was laying the roof, in the heat, in the middle of summer. While all my friends were in Chicago [où il a grandi], I was caught in Mississippi Goddam ! He said with a laugh, referring to the famous song by Nina Simone.
That same year, the couple visited the land in the company of a forestry expert. The tour takes on initiatory airs: “I saw nothing in the forest and I heard nothing. He showed us animals and plants. It gave us new meanings, ”says Mr. Springs, still amazed.
The couple comes out changed and promises not to sell the land. Then, from reflection to reflection, he decides to settle there, to bring in criminalized people or young people in search of meaning, but above all to rebuild a world made by and for African-Americans.
In 2017, Kevin and Teresa thus become members of a local cooperative of farmers in their image, but whose average age is very high. “What will happen to their land and their knowledge after their death?” Asks the 58-year-old woman. She feels their desire for transmission, and these other black farmers want to test the couple’s ambitions. “They came here with their tractor and cut a piece of the earth,” Kevin recalls.
Now, in addition to their own land, they want to buy another eight hectares of land from an elder who died last April without an heir, to place it in trust. On their crowdfunding platform, where they have already raised US $ 117,000, the slogan “ Black Lives Matters “Turned into” Black Land Matters “And calls for” securing the future of our people “.
The project has therefore become a real educational organization, since a training center must be built on the site, with an immense and dazzling purpose: freedom.
This idea of black liberation and self-determination by the land is not new. If it emerged in other places in the world, in the United States of the 1960s, it was the Mississippi that was its birthplace. The Freedom Farm Cooperative, founded by Fannie Lou Hamer, was in 1969 a response to hunger and oppression.
Mississippi is one of the worst food deserts still today, where finding fresh produce takes a lot of effort and mileage. Teresa and Kevin’s farm, called TKO, is also intended to be a solution to health problems that disproportionately affect African Americans: obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems.
The state now has the highest proportion of African-American farmers, with 13% of owner-producers, according to the most recent agricultural census. But a movement is underway and these black farms are multiplying, according to the Southeastern African American Farmers’Organic Network, which indicates that it does not have exhaustive statistics.
“Since the beginning of this country, things have not gone well for black people,” reflects Kevin Springs, adding that to “put it mildly.” The only way to break free from discrimination, racism and white supremacy is “to be in control of your work,” he insists.
From two centuries of slavery to the misery of unproductive plots, agriculture is another area of dispossession for African Americans, who have reportedly lost up to 90% of their farmland through various mechanisms, including through blame. from the US government. A 1999 class action lawsuit uncovered discriminatory practices by the US Department of Agriculture: Loans and agricultural aid awarded to blacks were much smaller than those awarded to whites.
Although black farmers are no longer driven from their land by terror today, Springs believes the passivity of some county workers is leading to the same result. “If you owe them taxes, they’re never going to remind you. And all of a sudden, the county employee calls you to tell you that your land is going up for auction because you owe them too much money, ”he says.
“We have to rebuild a community of our own,” his wife summarizes, which means exchanging products, rather than “giving the money back to the same white hand that paid you,” her husband adds.
The coronavirus pandemic has made their ideals even more urgent, exposing an “unbearable dependence” on African Americans and “a world too fragile,” Mr. Springs says. His new motto? “Black people just want to be left alone. He laughs and adjusts his straw hat, in the Mississippi heat of the summers of his childhood.
This report was funded with support from the Transat International Journalism FundThe duty.