Barely two centuries ago, most of the world’s productive land still belonged either communally to traditional societies or to the higher powers of monarch or church. But that pattern, and the ways of life that went with it, were consigned to history by the most creative and simultaneously destructive cultural force in the modern era: the idea of individual, exclusive ownership of land.
Spreading from both shores of the north Atlantic, it laid waste to traditional communal civilizations, displacing entire peoples from their homelands, and brought into being a unique concept of individual freedom and a distinct form of representative government. By contrast, as Linklater demonstrates, other great civilizations, in Russia, China, and the Islamic world, evolved very different structures of land ownership and thus very different forms of government and social responsibility. The history and evolution of this concept is a fascinating chapter in the history of civilization, offering unexpected insights about how various forms of democracy and capitalism developed, as well as a revealing analysis of a future where the Earth must sustain nine billion lives. Owning the Earth presents a radically new view of mankind’s place on the planet and the history behind it.
Revolution is based on land. Land is the basis of all independence. Land is the basis of freedom, justice, and equality. – Malcolm X
At the most fundamental level, virtually every economic system man has ever created relies on one undeniable truth – whoever controls the land, controls the system. It is in large part why African American institutional and individual wealth has deteriorated over the past 100 years as land ownership has seen a rapid and steady decline. In 1999, a report by the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund noted African Americans own, “less than 1% of all privately owned rural land in the United States”. As the human population continues to grow and resources are even more strained, control of land will only increase from the macro level of countries down to the micro level of communities.
Among colleges, land is a very important strategic tool. For rural and urban colleges alike the ability to control the land around itself and within its region can be vital to its success and survival. It can also be used for investment and research for the institutions. Harvard University owns a piece of land in New Hampshire and has been studying its recovery from a hurricane since 1938. Quite a few colleges actually own land in other countries and many colleges own land in their endowments for investments in timber and other alternative investments. In the recession, timber was the only asset class to not decline. As one institutional investor said at the 2009 Timberland Investment World Summit I attended in New York, “As long as the sun is shining trees will grow and your timber’s value will increase.”
The HBCUs below are all land-grant institutions. Tuskegee has unique status being the only private HBCU in the country with land-grant status. A status only two other private universities in the United States (Cornell & M.I.T.) can claim. National ranking in parentheses.
- Tuskegee University – 5 000 Acres (12)
- Alabama A&M University – 2 300 Acres (28)
- Alcorn State University – 1 756 Acres (42)
- Prairie View A&M University – 1 502 (48)
- Kentucky State University – 915 Acres (92)
- Southern University – 884 Acres (96)
- The 6 HBCUs combined control 12 357 acres.
- The 10 largest college landowners control 100 913 acres.
- The 100 largest college landowners control 342 497 acres
- Median acreage among top 100 college landowners – 1 375 acres
- Average acreage among top 100 college landowners – 2 299 acres
By William A. Foster, IV
A nation may be said to consist of its territory, its people and its laws. The territory is the only part which is of certain durability. Laws change, people die, the land remains. — Abraham Lincoln
The Land Report recently released its annual 100 largest landowners in America. To no one’s surprise there was not one African American individual or family present on the list. The apex of African American land ownership was over 100 years ago in 1910 when African America owned almost 20 million acres. A far cry from the 160 million acres that should have been owned had Special Order 15 been honored by the U.S. government which is also known as “40 acres and a mule” to most African Americans. By the numbers we have lost over 50 percent of our land ownership the past 100 years and the number continues to drop at an alarming rate for a myriad of reasons. Given that land is the foundation for all social, economic, and political development it could be argued that you can measure a group’s power based on their land ownership. This has been true no matter the economic system in place throughout history. If this is the case then African America is seeing itself getting weaker and weaker generation after generation.
The largest landowner in the country is John Malone, owner of Liberty Media and something few know is he was the second largest shareholder in Black Entertainment Television behind the founders Bob and Sheila Johnson. His initial investment in the company was $180 000 in equity and a $320 000 loan. Eventually, the loan would be paid back but he retained his equity stake, which by the time of the company’s sale would see him receive a return of $700 million. Yes, the man made $700 million on a $180 000 investment. Needless to say, that can buy you a lot of land. In 2010, it allowed him to purchase the Bell Ranch, 290 000 acres of land in New Mexico, and as a result jumping Ted Turner as America’s largest landowner. Just between John Malone and Ted Turner they own over 50 percent of the amount of land that African America owns as a whole.
HBCU business schools have a unique opportunity to change the paradigm of African American land ownership for future generations. This is even more so true at HBCU 1890 schools where agriculture still comprises a major component within the institutions. A class designed around African American land ownership would go a long way to educating graduates, who will typically be in a much better financial position to accumulate land than those with less education. The classes themselves could teach among others things but not limited to; how to implement “poison pills” into their community to prevent gentrification, how to finance land, history of land ownership, timberland investments, and a myriad of other land-related subjects.
Gentrification alone is a problem plaguing a number of African American communities across the nation. This has been especially true for African American neighborhoods located near city centers as many in the suburbs are starting to move back inward. There is also the issue facing African American farmers in this country. Healthy Solutions reports that less than 2 percent of farms today are operated by African Americans in comparison to 14 percent in 1920. There is no doubt that if one examines African America as a nation that its food security and food dependence would have alarm bells ringing for decades now as this situation grows more dire. The USDA in 2010 settled an almost $1.3 billion discrimination lawsuit with 70 000 African American farmers. However, land ownership and African American farms continue to decline further compounding African America capability to have access to quality food options and increasing long-term health issues. I could go into how land ownership influences rezoning of political lines but then I might need to turn this into a book.
Unfortunately, it begs the question as many HBCUs move to a focus on “diversity” whether or not African American economic issues are even on the minds of many HBCU business school leadership. Our situation can not be handled as a “minority” situation. It requires a more targeted strategy to our social, economic, and political state. We can not continue to be the group who has the least but shares the most unless we are content with perpetually being in last and institutionally dependent on others. Land, it remains kind of a big deal.
The Color of the Land brings the histories of Creek Indians, African Americans, and whites in Oklahoma together into one story that explores the way races and nations were made and remade in conflicts over who would own land, who would farm it, and who would rule it. This story disrupts expected narratives of the American past, revealing how identities–race, nation, and class–took new forms in struggles over the creation of different systems of property.
Conflicts were unleashed by a series of sweeping changes: the forced “removal” of the Creeks from their homeland to Oklahoma in the 1830s, the transformation of the Creeks’ enslaved black population into landed black Creek citizens after the Civil War, the imposition of statehood and private landownership at the turn of the twentieth century, and the entrenchment of a sharecropping economy and white supremacy in the following decades. In struggles over land, wealth, and power, Oklahomans actively defined and redefined what it meant to be Native American, African American, or white. By telling this story, David Chang contributes to the history of racial construction and nationalism as well as to southern, western, and Native American history.