For immediate release
Feb. 24, 2006
This past fall, Waymon Hinson, professor in the Department of Marriage and Family Therapy at Abilene Christian University, went on sabbatical leave to conduct a special study about racial injustice in the United States, specifically in the lives of black farmers in the southern region of the United States.
Hinson was introduced to the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association, advocate for the rights of black farmers, in the early 1990s. During this time, Hinson worked as a psychological consultant with an attorney who was involved in the earliest cases of injustice filed against the federal government. Hinson said he witnessed the unfair treatment of minority farmers during his time.
"What I've seen is systematic racism at its worst," Hinson said. "I decided this was something of importance that needed special attention."
During the study, Hinson sat down with several black farmers and their families and asked them questions about their lives. He said these questions were very open-ended and related to their lives in regard to the United States Department of Agriculture.
"I was in search of the dominant themes that form the basis for their lives," he said.
The farmers had many stories on the topic, and themes of struggle and resilience seemed to stand out the most during these in-depth interviews.
A major problem among black farmers in the U.S. is the issue of operational loans, Hinson quickly found out. Operational loans are sums of money from the USDA that allow farmers to buy seeds, fertilizer and pay operational costs for their farms. These loans are essential to many farmers, especially smaller, family owned farms. Many black farmers are facing the problem of the USDA not sending these loans on time or at all, resulting in late or no harvest.
"I would be remiss if I didn't say that in the 1930s the rise of agribusiness and the industry has been systematically removing small farmers from the land – black and white," Hinson said. "But if you look at the numbers, black farmers are losing land faster than white farmers."
Dr. Edward Robinson, professor in the Bible and history departments, was also involved in this study. He surveyed African American involvement in farming from the Colonial Era, the 1600s to the 1920s, and delved into the history-based part of the topic.
Robinson said that his research has shown him that blacks were the agriculture pathfinders on the American frontier, transforming much of the North American wilderness into flourishing agricultural area.
The two professors have worked together in writing several literary pieces about their experiences with these farmers.
Hinson said that while this project focuses on the unique stories of black farmers, it has a larger significance as it discusses civil rights and social justice in the United States. The people living daily struggles and exemplifying resilience in everyday life is what compels Hinson and Robinson to continue their work beyond these projects.
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