Throughout the history of the United States there is one fact that remains constant – when you own your own farmland, you own your own destiny. This is because you decide what crops you’ll grow, how you’ll grow them, and when you’ll harvest them.  Perhaps no one understood that owning land meant freedom more than Black Americans who came out of slavery.

Perhaps no one has understood the word “freedom” more than Black landowners who came out of slavery.

However, keeping that land and making  a profit off of it has never been easy for Black farmers in America who continue to run up against systematic racism from all facets of society. Unfair grading of crops, processors refusing to work with them, and buyers making falsely low prices are just some examples of the biases that Black farmers face.  Others examples include financial institutions making it more difficult for Black farmers to get loans or credit. Even the government failed them by not protecting their interests.

This is where things began to change in 1969 when, motivated by the rights of African-American farmers to farm land securely and affordably, U.S. civil rights and land collective activists co-founded a collective farm based on the Israeli kibbutzim in Southwest Georgia called New Communities. According to co-founder Shirley Sherrod, she and her husband Charles, himself a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, were searching for ways to help families who risked eviction because of their participation in activities of the Civil Rights movement.

Shirley Sherrod at the original New Life Communities, Inc. building.

As a result, at almost 6,000 acres, New Communities became the first community land trust in the U.S. owned by Black people with the goal of building a community that they could call their own using the skills they had, thus making their lives better. And, indeed, on the New Communities farm you could find all sorts farmers putting their skills to use in raising everything from hogs to peanuts, soy, and corn. Besides farmland, some of the land was also set aside for businesses and schools with the hopes of one day making New Communities truly independent groups of Black communities.

The dream of a bucolic life for Black people wouldn’t come easy, however. After being promised federal funding and planning grants by The Office of Economic Opportunity, neighboring white farmers began to protest.  Georgia Governor Lester Maddox gave in to the white’s demands, vetoing any federal funding that would aid the New Communities project. And the opposition they faced by local white farmers didn’t end there.

After their crops came up one year, they found that someone had sabotaged their liquid fertilizer delivery. When they applied for an emergency loan through the Farmers Home Administration, a member at the agency told Sherrod that New Communities would get the loan “over my dead body”.  By 1985, after several years of discrimination and drought, New Communities went into foreclosure. As if they wanted to pretend that New Communities never existed, the new owners simply bulldozed all of the project’s buildings into a big hole in the ground.

Unlike the applications of other farmers, theirs was denied. Multiple years with continuing drought was too much, and by 1985, New Communities was in foreclosure. The new owner used digging equipment to push all existing buildings into giant holes, as if he wanted to get rid of every trace of what New Communities had built.

However, Sherrod discovered that she and other members of New Communities weren’t the only ones who lost their farmland. In fact, Black Americans owned around 925,000 farms in 1920, but the number had dwindled to only 45,000 by 1975. Today, only 1.4% of America’s 3.2 million farmland owners are Black.

So, how did Black farmers lose over 90% of their farmland?

Sherrod blames the USDA.

After Black farmers won a class action lawsuit against the USDA where the USDA admitted to discriminating against Black farmers in their distribution of farm loans between 1981 and 1986. As a result, they settled out of court where they agreed to pay Black farmers over $2.2 billion distributed in two phases.

In 1999, Sherrod and the other members of New Communities filed their own lawsuit against the USDA and after several hearings, appeals and review, they were finally awarded $12 million by the courts a decade later in 2009. Sherrod and the other members immediately began looking for land to build a newer New Communities.

They found over 1,638 acres near Albany in Dougherty County, one of the largest pecan producing counties in the state of Georgia. The land, known as the Cypress Pond Plantation, was once the property of the largest slaveholder in Georgia. New Communities bought the farm  in June 2011 with  plans to farm the land and develop a conference center for racial education and healing.

The new New Communities, Inc.

At some time in its history, the plantation was primarily used to grow pecans; however, when New Communities purchased the land, pecan trees grew only on around 85 acres.  Enter Hilton Segler, a white man and pecan grafting expert. Segler enthusiastically trained one of the members of New Communities on site and planted an additional 115 acres to make it an even 200 acres that started producing a plethora of pecans.  Soon after they bought a pecan processor and started selling their pecans to market.

In addition to growing pecans and other crops at New Communities, however, only 800 acres of the land they purchased is used for farming.  The other half or so is used for training about 100 farmers via the Southwest Georgia Project. Though not everyone can farm on New Communities property, it is something that can tie Black farmers together and together is when exciting things can happen!

Shirley at the New Communities, Inc. Resora plantation.

New Communities also offers lodging at Resora featuring several stylishly furnished lodges, a guest house and a studio bunk house set among stately cypress trees with peaceful views of Cypress Pond and quiet trails that allow you to reconnect with nature and rejuvenate your mind.

While you’re rejuvenating your mind, don’t forget to stop by one of your nearest Stuckey’s locations and relax, refresh and refuel the way people have been doing it on great American road trips since 1937! Of course we’re talking about Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls, Pecan Divinity, Pecan Pralines and other fine pecan candies. We’ve got road trip snacks for adults and kids alike including our bags of flavored pecans or our mouth-watering popcorn treats featuring the one-of-a-kind deliciously good Hunkey Dorey.

While you’re there, be sure to also browse our wide selection of retro-inspired  Stuckey’s t-shirts, caps and mugs, as well as our unique souvenirs, gifts, and other Stuckey’s memorabilia while you’re there.

And remember that you can always order Stuckey’s merchandise online and have them deliver it right to your front door in time for one of your next road trips. Visit us at stuckeys.com to find out more.

Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again!