In all we do, ACLT strives to maintain a vibrant land conservation community that values and embraces diversity, practices inclusivity and works toward equality for all. Our nation was founded on noteworthy principles that have been replicated in constitutions adopted by many democratic nations. However, the principle of equality was not mentioned in our Constitution because the institution known as slavery could not be negotiated away. After 240+ years, the repercussions of slavery and subsequent unequal treatment are still present.
As individuals and as organizations, we cannot take on all the world’s issues at one time. However, sometimes we can look through a wider lens and do better.
For example, nationwide our fellow land trusts have been valiantly trying to save as much of the natural world as we can. However, in his recent post, “A Necessary Reckoning”, CEO of the Land Trust Alliance Andrew Bowman notes that “Land trusts, too, must acknowledge that while tremendous good has been accomplished under the banner of private land conservation, a portion of our field’s origins and some of its practices have been tainted by prejudice, discrimination and intolerance.” He cites the work of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina which has documented U.S. policies that have excluded and disenfranchised communities of color over the course of the nation’s history. This kind of work begins to explain some of the reasons why African Americans lost 90% of their farmland in the 20th century.
After the Civil War, it was very difficult for black farmers to purchase land but, despite many obstacles, they were able to amass 14 million acres by the beginning of the 20th century. In its 2002 research report 18, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) explains how racist actions (including government programs) limited African Americans’ success after they were finally able to get ownership of land. Yet it wasn’t until 2010 that the USDA settled a lawsuit brought on by black farmers claiming discrimination in its programs that benefited white farmers over black farmers.
We see these impacts in Calvert County. In 1930, black-owned farms totaled 33,352 acres in the County while white-owned farms totaled 77,287 acres. By 2002, black-owned farms totaled 785 acres (a 98% decrease) while white-owned farms totaled 29,336 acres (a 62% decrease). The economics of farming and government policies have had a profound impact on all farmers, but it clearly can be inferred by the data and recent articles (some of them mentioned above) that black farm owners were disproportionally impacted.
The history of Parkers Creek is inextricably linked to European colonization of Piscataway Conoy Confederacy Tribal lands, to slavery, the civil war, and ongoing racist attitudes and practices that limited the economic viability and freedoms of African Americans and other minorities. Telling these histories accurately and with insight is one small part of the type of healing needed in America today, and is the basis for ACLT’s Parkers Creek Heritage Trail project. We are currently in the research phase but once complete, the PCHT will share these histories through interpretative signage along our trails. Before the end of the process, we will hold a town hall meeting to bring black farmers and interested parties together in the community to discuss the Heritage Trail, land conservation, and related issues.
But our work won’t stop there. More generally, we will:
- Welcome stories from the African American community and the Piscataway Conoy Confederacy Tribes about Parkers Creek (and more generally Calvert County) and their agricultural//hunting/fishing/community experiences over generations as part of the Parkers Creek Heritage Trail project;
- Continue to welcome black families, all persons of color, and all ethnicities to enjoy ACLT’s lands, to become involved in our land conservancy, and to participate in our events;
- Increase the diversity of our leadership team; and
- Incorporate this statement and these actions into our Five-Year Planning process where we will monitor progress.