Part I of IV

by Williams D. Brack
Special to The New Tri-State Defender

African-American wealth has and is being intentionally sabotaged.

According to a report released this week from the Corporation for Economic Development and the Institute for Policy Studies, if current trends persist, it will take 228 years for African-American families to accumulate the same amount of wealth as white Americans. 

By 2043, the year the U.S. Census Bureau projects white Americans to be the minority in the U.S., the racial wealth gap between African-American and white-American households will double from $500,000 to $1 million, the report said.

COGIC Bishop David Hall (left) and Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association President Thomas Burrell are out front in a legal fight to combat what they view as another effort to put “an end to black farmers once and for all.” (Photo: Patricia Rogers)

In a four-part series that begins this week, I examine the historical and modern drivers of the African-American-white-American wealth gap and probe possible solutions. In this initial column, I begin with the historical drivers of the gap. Let’s start with a recent story about African-American farmers and work our way back.

African-American farmers in the Mid-South region surrounding Memphis used science to uncover what they charge is a multi-million-dollar scheme to put them out of business and steal their farmland. A lawsuit alleges that at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show in March of 2017, Stine Seed Company purposefully sold African-American Farmers fake seeds. By hurting those farmers’ bottom line, someone else would be able to swoop in and buy up the land that belongs to African-American farmers. Stine has vowed to fight vigorously what company representatives label a lawsuit without merit.

Eighty years ago, there were a million African-American farmers; today there are less than 5,000. The sons and daughters of African-American farmers want to farm, 

Just like the sons and daughters of white American farmers, the sons and daughters of African-American farmers want to farm and they point to malicious intent as an ongoing obstacle.

In 1998, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Commission on Small Farms acknowledged that “the history of discrimination at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is well-documented” against African-American farmers, who were pushed off their land for decades through racially-biased laws and practices and lack of access to loans.  

While farmland was being snatched away from African Americans in rural areas, African Americans in urban areas also were discrimination targets. Racial discrimination in mortgage lending in the 1930s shaped the demographic and wealth patterns of American communities today. 

A study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition discovered that 3 out of 4 neighborhoods “redlined” on government maps 80 years ago continue to struggle economically.  And when the federal government wasn’t redlining, it was running highways through historically African-American neighborhoods destroying homes and community culture. 

In Memphis, Boss E. H. Crump, initiated the federally funded “slum clearance” that cleared the area west of Lauderdale from Vance Ave. to Mississippi Blvd. The area featured houses that ranged in size from the Robert Church mansion to the Hooks’ family single-story, single-family home, and small businesses such as flower shops, groceries, cafes and funeral parlors.

Crump didn’t wipe out a slum. He tore down a stable, middle-class, African-American neighborhood.

The Memphis Housing Authority leveled a 46-acre area and replaced the single-family homes with a low-rise, 900-unit public housing complex dubbed the Foote Homes. Now that public housing complex has mostly been demolished as it gives way to multi-use development branded South City.  

The discrimination didn’t stop at land, bad loans, redlining and the destruction of communities. African Americans were sold smaller policies at higher rates. According to the Memphis Poverty Report, the median income for African Americans has stubbornly remained at approximately 50 percent of income for white Americans since the 1950s.  

Historically, African-American wealth has been intentionally sabotaged. From income to housing to insurance, African Americans have been discriminated against in nearly every aspect of financial life. Wealth compounds over multiple generations. African Americans’ opportunities to compound wealth have been criminally curtailed by theft, vandalism, terrorism, overcharging and discrimination 

And, the discrimination has not stopped.

NEXT, PART II: Modern acts of sabotage and discrimination prevent African Americans from achieving deserved wealth.

(Williams Brack is a commercial banker, civic volunteer, and community activist.  He can be reached at [email protected].)