WATCH | Witness – Forty Acres and a Dream

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Copyright Photographer John Ficara

Purchase Black Farmers in America by  Photographer John Francis Ficara and Juan Williams. Between 1920 and the present, black farmers as a proportion of American farmers declined from 14 percent to 1 percent. Nonetheless, in 1920 some 14 percent of all farmers in America were black, utilizing farming as a respectable means of making a living. Images of emotional faces and determined eyes of the few black farmers that remain today evoke America’s original sin — slavery — and its aftermath, sharecropping, liens, and peonage. Every image takes us back to the not-too-distant days of Jim Crow segregation. Now, less than 1 percent of American farmers are black, many on to a tradition whose economic viability is lost to corporate monopoly and the ever-present racism of the U.S. government through recent practices of the FMHA, which resulted in a settlement of a legal suit by black farmers.

Here is a golden twilight to treasure — the story of black American farmers.

These photographs reflect a strength, pride, beauty, and endurance of a dying breed of African Americans.The artistry of Ficara’s lens and his genius at portraiture are exceptional. With this book his contribution to photography as both an art form and a documentary medium is secure. But no less remarkable is his choice of subject matter: working the land is an archetypal image of humanity, the idealized pastoral life having captured the imagination of painters and poets for centuries. In the story of African American farming there is much bitterness and betrayal, but in these photographs that pastoral idealism is not entirely stripped away. We see evidence of America’s on-going struggle with race; with the economic differences between white and black America. These images offer silent testimony to the sorrow and sense of loss at the heart of black America’s cry for fairness.

 

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Photographer John Ficara captures the plight of black farmers in the United States. According to Ficara the dwindling numbers of African American farmers is due to racism. It is less than 250 farmers under the age of 25 years old. Ficara captures and document the decline of African American farmers in the South. It has become an uphill struggle for African American and white farmers to maintain their livelihood due to the conflicts that surround owning their own farms and competing with larger corporations.

John Francis Ficara is an international award-winning photojournalist and documentary photographer who has worked for Newsweek and several other national and international magazines. Currently a freelance photographer, he lives near Washington, D.C.

Juan Williams is senior correspondent for NPR’s Morning Edition and author of the bestselling book, Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965 and the widely acclaimed biography, Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary. Williams has won numerous awards for his work, including an Emmy award for TV documentary writing.

 

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