Publications / Document (Practical/Historical)

Rural Development: Rich Land for Poor

The following transcript is an edited summary of presentations and discussion held at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, CA in September, 1968. It is an account and exploration of the Community Land Trust concept as it had been developed by Slater King, Robert Swann, and others connected to the Albany Movement. The speaking engagement was part of the group’s fundraising efforts to purchase the  land that would be incorporated into the nation’s first Community Land Trust, demonstrating Slater King’s pivotal role and leadership in organizing New Communities, Inc.  As such, it is significant historical evidence of the development and historical context of the Community Land Trust as a tool for local economic development.

There remain parallels to issues facing farmers and rural communities, particularly Black Americans, underscoring the enduring relevance of the Community Land Trust to our present day.

The transcript also helpfully places the land trust alongside Gar Alperovitz‘s discussion on the origins of the Community Development Corporation model. Swann later went on to advocate for CLTs and CDCs in partnership, as they each have distinct but complementary roles in local development planning; both espouse  similar principles of community self-help and participatory economic democracy at the community level.

The recording is held by the Online Archive of California. As the description reads: “Slater King, a black activist and real estate broker, presents his idea to create a land trust, privately organized as a non-profit entity, as a means of encouraging poor blacks and whites to leave overpopulated urban areas to become farmers, and to help even the odds of those who are struggling to hold onto their land. Gar Alperovitz, Robert Choate, Don Devereux, Eleanor Eaton, and Robert Swann join Center fellows in the discussion.”

Thanks to Prof. Keller Easterling of Yale University for directing the attention of the Schumacher Center to this valuable resource.

Note: the Schumacher Center is currently in the process of securing permission to share the original recordings publicly. Recordings are currently available to access for researchers via the Online Archive of California.

    Finding aid information for the OAC is as follows:
    Title: Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions Collection, Series 12: Audio-Visual
    Call Number: Mss 18  / Item Detail: Reel AS8045-8046/R7; Reel AS8045-8046/R7; Reel AS17026/R7; Reel AS17027/R7

Narrator: This is [Hal Kaufman] speaking from the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara. The poor people of the world outnumber the rich two to one. At least some of the poor want not only to be well off, but free. They want to be free to make their own mistakes. They are beginning to demand the right and dignity of controlling their own destiny, of choosing their own environment, of making their own decisions. 

According to many, self-determination runs hand in hand with decolonization. Grants, gifts, donations or handouts must be given without conditions. Assistance through loans must be given to help the poor to help themselves.

This trend toward decentralization is seen everywhere, in the schools, in the communities and in the poverty programs. The Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions recently held a three day conference on rural development, exploring the possibilities of rural development in a land trust program, where land and the money to work it might be acquired in any of several possible arrangements for distribution of farmers unable to purchase land on their own. 

William Gorman, a philosopher and center fellow, opened the conference by underlining the situation of the poor in the world. 

William Gorman: We are aware of how difficult it would be for any of us, let alone all of us collectively, to hold before our mind all the rural poor in America. Roughly, I guess, 14 million, six million families; 80 percent of them white, incidentally. There must be a turnabout. There has to be a turnabout. 

In our explicit two day search for new legal, financial, constitutional, social and moral forms, we will not be thinking only of a few black farmers in Alabama or a few brown farmers in New Mexico, or even a few white farmers hidden behind the scenery in Vermont. But we’ll be trying to have in mind the rural poor of the world, still preponderantly the largest group in the human community.

Gar Alperovitz Discusses the Community Self-Determination Act

Narrator: Mr. Gorman  took note of a bill introduced in Congress to establish a community self-determination act. The bill, one of whose architects was Gar Alperovitz of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C., proposed nonprofit corporations set up to meet the community’s needs. Mr. Gorman read to the conference a section of that bill.

William Gorman: I take from Mr. Alperovitz’s remarkable bill, presently before the House and the Senate, in the sections on findings, Section Two, the first finding: “The Congress hereby finds that despite the unsurpassed affluence of the United States, there exists today a nation within a nation composed of millions of Americans in urban slums and declining areas of the countryside who live in poverty, misery and despair.”

Narrator: Also present at our conference was Gar Alperovitz, who helped draft the bill from which Mr. Gorman has just quoted. Here he expands on the themes underlying this proposed legislation.

Gar Alperovitz: …Those three basic themes; one: the ideas of self-help, self-determination, the need for an institution in which decisions about all aspects could be made that’s coming out of the communities; the second set of ideas coming out of Washington: that you must decentralize, and that you must find a new way to redistribute resources; and finally, the third basic theoretical ideas: of how, on a macro scale and a micro scale, you might allocate resources in the society.

Those three themes are really the three themes behind the Community Self-Determination Act, which was introduced a few months ago. If you can put together a nonprofit corporation, which is really representative of a community, and which really is a one man, one vote affair which the community is the court of last resort, and where the last decision is made, and if you can make wholly owned economic subsidiaries in that area link to that corporation, then we’ll call that new animal something. 

Instead of calling it ‘a nonprofit corporation linked to a profit-making corporation, which a wholly owned subsidiary in a given area controls one man, one vote’, we called it a community development corporation. But in fact, it’s very simple: it’s a one man, one vote corporation dealing with economic and social problems, and using profits directly for social services.

Slater King Discusses Community Land Trusts for Rural Resettlement

Narrator: The first day of the conference began with a presentation by Slater King, who described a land trust program as a means of extending support to the small farmer who wants to stay on the land, and to the departed farmer who isn’t making it in the city and would return to the land if he could.  Mr. King was a real estate and rural development expert who had lived in the South all of his life.

Now, Mr. Slater King.

(From Left:) Slater King, Robert Swann, Marion King, Fay Bennett in Israel, 1968

Slater King: It was very interesting listening to Mr. Alperovitz about how people all over the country are becoming very interested in controlling their own destiny in the community, and deciding that they want to make decisions themselves without this being done for them. It really made me reminisce as to how my father believed implicitly in the right of individual ownership, and to think I had come to this point to accept the premise of a land trust for blacks and whites in the South. 

…people all over the country are becoming very interested in controlling their own destiny in the community, and deciding that they want to make decisions themselves without this being done for them.

The area that I do come from is in the heart of a tremendous black belt, an area with very, very fertile land. Outside of the delta of the Mississippi, there would be no other area that would have a heavier concentration of blacks in the South in a 50 mile radius, and the area in which I live in.

In fact, this was the same area that Dr. Du Bois came at the turn of the century to write the book about the black peasantry who lived there, which is The Souls of Black Folk. This has been one of the most repressive areas in the country where blacks were concerned. We had been interested in being able to take the decisions of our own destiny in our own hands, and out of this came the Albany movement. 

Our area was one of the first, after the demonstrations by college students, of a real community. A grassroots community, people from all areas, coming together with the students, and attempting through demonstrations and other things to do away with segregated institutions. Many blacks felt that these demonstrations would change the minds of whites. Unfortunately, I never had that sort of optimism. 

My only interest was in reference to changing the image, the concept they would have of themselves. That it would make black people feel that they had power to do something about the circumstances and the situation of their lives. 

I thought about how Dr. Martin Luther King and I, that we were in jail together in the same cell in Albany. We spent many hours in conversation. And my saying to him repeatedly that I had really hoped that out of the demonstrations, out of SCLC coming in to work with us, that there would be a concomitant commitment, carryover, desire on their part to work with us in the economic sector. Because after having people fired from jobs, etc., for our demonstrations, unless I hear some follow through, to give Negros some economic power in the community, then things are left in a worse situation than they were when it started. And he concurred with this, and it is interesting that he would constantly say that “I really wish that I knew more about economics. And that there was more that I could do in this area.”

The same feeling of powerlessness I think that this symbolizes—and I hate to use a personal illustration, but that blacks live with, but especially more in rural areas in the South that I’m discussing here—and that is that my wife, who I think is a very kind, a very gentle person, going to take some things to the jail, to some of the people who had demonstrated, she was expecting, and was holding one of her small children in her arms, and one of the jailers, because she didn’t move fast enough, kicked her and beat her. She lost the child, and also knocked the child out of her arms. 

But it really gets you when you write to the government that there’s almost a complete indifference to this sort of thing; nothing was done about it. The same thing, my brother, who is an attorney there, C.B. King, was beat over the head by the sheriff. Nothing is done by the federal government. Yet, a few months later, the government brought a case against us, persons who were leaders in the movement, because we allegedly encouraged persons to picket a store that was owned by a white juror. And that we allegedly did this because of his decision as a juror. We were convicted and sentenced. 

It was carried to an appeal court and it was overruled after many years. It seems that the only time often that the government does move in is against Negros. In reference to myself and my brother, the attorney—we only had one Negro lawyer in this Southern section of Georgia—I do think his actions made it a little lighter the harassment and the burdens and the brutality Negros have to receive. 

We could not have stayed in Albany if it would not have been that my father had accumulated a little property, and that his commitment was to stand behind us. So this made it much more difficult for the whites to run us out of the community economically. 

But I merely use this as a base of the importance of us giving Negros who want to change the society an alternative, too. Because they must have some type of economic stability. 

In our area, thousands of acres of land were purchased by blacks—this was after the end of slavery. But through many ways, through different machinations legally and that all of the machinery of law is controlled by whites in the South, much of the land was taken over. 

Something else that has interested me is that since 1955, as a real estate broker, that we have actually sold thousands of acres in our firm, where people come back from areas such as Watts in Chicago and New York blacks, to sell the farms that their people have accumulated through very, very terrific efforts. 

And what has been more disconcerting is often to see members of these families who sometimes would like to stay there, but they are not able to get the money to buy out the rest of them. So it means a farm is purchased, and each time it’s been purchased, it is always been whites who have purchased it. And that the owners have been looking for the highest price that they can get. 

But what is interesting is, this is just not a phenomenon in Albany, Georgia. That in talking to other brokers over the South, it is a thing that is pretty general. And one reason that I had addressed this thing of a land trust to certain white friends: it seems that the only people who are really working in this area are the black nationalists, who have come into the South, and who are buying large tracts of land. And what is amazing to me is that some blacks come back out of the North, some of them who were service based and who had a fairly secure life in the North, but who liked farming and who were willing to come back to run some of these farms, for these people.

It’s also interesting that there’s almost an inverse ratio, that the more Negros in the rural areas press for political changes, that almost to the same degree, the mechanization has increased. For instance, in the delta in Mississippi, in 1965, that 69 percent of the farms were mechanized, or the crops were being harvested by mechanization, and weed killers were being used. And that was the year that they had a lot of oppressive or equal voting rights, etc. Then in 1966, it jumps to over 90 percent, which gives you an idea how this thing of kicking people  off of the land has increased to the degree that people have pressed for their rights. 

It’s also interesting that there’s almost an inverse ratio, that the more Negros in the rural areas press for political changes, that almost to the same degree, the mechanization has increased. For instance, in the delta in Mississippi, in 1965, that 69 percent of the farms were mechanized, or the crops were being harvested by mechanization, and weed killers were being used. And that was the year that they had a lot of oppressive or equal voting rights, etc. Then in 1966, it jumps to over 90 percent, which gives you an idea how this thing of kicking people  off of the land has increased to the degree that people have pressed for their rights.

Some further figures. From 1950 to 1960, we have over a million people that left the farm each year. From 1960 to 1965, it was 800,000 each year. But what is almost unbelievable is that after the riots in Watts, after all of the bad publicity, and you would think people would not be interested in coming into Watts, that during 1967, displaced farm workers were coming into Watts at the rate of over a thousand workers per month. 

I think that we will find this repeated all over the country. There are statistics such as: Negro families in the black belt, many of them have incomes, as were shown statistically in 1966, that was less than $400 per year. Many persons have asked me, ‘well, why have you said why a land trust for blacks?’ My interest is in a land trust for southern persons, but I feel that the situation, looking at it realistically as it exists in the South today, but because of the mores, because of the criticism that most whites have not been able to live with—a lot of whites are criticizing them—that most of them will not be interested in coming in to this sort of land trust thing. I would say that those that wish to come in, let them come in. 

I’ll give you an experience. Like in my own area, it’s really fascinating to meet whites who live in areas that are in a state of transition. And many of them will tell you that, I don’t mind staying, but I don’t want to be an oddball. They really cannot stand the pressures, and I guess most of us can’t, of friends calling them a nigger lover, or preferring to live in a Negro community. So I think that realistically, until this is changed, that we are not going to see many whites who would be interested in coming into these sort of things.

But I think I should continue statistically, because Negros are hurt much more in the South. I think it is much more chronic than it is with whites. For instance, on the poverty scale, statistics show that five out of every 10 white farmers are poor. But the ratio for blacks runs eight out of every nine black farmers are poor.

Another reason I think it’s so important to address it to them is because 93 percent of rural Negros that live in the South, and 98 percent of all Negro farm operators are in the South. In the land trust idea, many of us see this as an alternative of the Farm Home Administration, though possibly from different angles. It has almost come to the same conclusion that we have. 

I would like to read you statement number one. This was proposed legislation from Farm Home Administration to give more latitude for assisting low income families. This was a proposal which was not enacted. It reads as follows: “The purpose of the proposed change in the act is to authorize loans and grants to nonprofit corporations and public agencies for the acquisition and improvement of small farms for resale to lower-income persons, so they can become owner-operators of family farms and stabilize that tenure.”

Their suggestion that they are making is that a public corporation be set up, a nonprofit corporation. Unfortunately, though, they are suggesting it would be more or less controlled by Farm Home Administration. And many of us feel that Farm Home Administration has been very, very racist, where it is really administered to blacks in the South, and this only reinforces my idea that a land trust is a necessity. 

One other thing. It shows this is under the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, that out of 5,000 committeemen and 11 Southern states, that in 1967 not one black person had been elected. And most of you are familiar that with the ASC office, that this controls allotments for cotton, for the green allotment. This is one of the most vital areas on a farm. And when people have no decision on this, then it really gets to be pretty regrettable.

I do feel that the land trust idea can succeed if private foundations will assist; if persons who are skilled in management and credit and have other expertise will also give their assistance, much as they have done in Israel, where they’ve been very successful in lending this sort of thing to African countries, without attempting to impose very ideological concepts upon them.

There was a farm that we were showing that was owned by a Mr. [Shardle], who was a multimillionaire. He was a cattleman who owned a large tract of land not far from us in Georgia. And in showing the land, I was really startled that here was a Negro who did actually most of the running of this farm. And this fellow had very little formal training, but very intelligent, a very bright person. Another fellow bought it over, and of course, he was more Southern-orientated, and he did not see fit to keep Mr. Cuts on the farm. 

And this fellow goes into Albany and receives a job in industry, where he barely ekes out a living then. But I thought about, with all of the training that this man has, that to me he’s a symbol. Because it is thousands of people like Mr. Cuts over the South who are very competent, very able people , who would like to stay on the farm rather than migrating into many other urban communities, where they are costly to the local government and to the federal government.

I think of something, though, that illustrates it to me more dramatically than anything else I can think of, and that was that one of the main papers in Hartford, Connecticut, after doing a survey, they found out that there were more black people from Americus, Georgia, who were then living in Hartford, Connecticut than there were black people  who were living in Americus, Georgia at that time. And they sent a reporter down to see what information could he get. So one of the persons that he was talking to was Dr. Clarence Jordon, who was a [indiscernible]. Dr. Jordan said, well, I tell you what, I know one guy who is leaving now, who is planning to go to Hartford, of all places. But I’ll take you over there to talk to him.

They went over to talk to the fellow and the guy asked him, why was he leaving? He said, well, I really don’t want to leave. I’ve acted as a sharecropper with this man. My production in the fields has been much higher than many of the white farmers who own their farms. But each year, when it comes for our settlement, always, there’s nothing that I come out with. And my family just can’t continue to live this way. So I see no alternative but to go to Hartford.

So the reporter said, why are you going then? He said, well, my relatives are up there. And so he said, well, do you have any job in prospect? No, I don’t have any job in prospect. Do you have any other type of skills? No, there’s no other type of skills that I have.

So he asked him further, well, could you tell me, what is the address where your people live that you’re moving? He gave them the address, and the reporter and Dr. Jordan left. So Dr. Jordan asked him afterwards, where is that section of Hartford? He said, it’s one of the worst slum areas of Hartford, and the concentration of people is just deplorable. You can’t believe they have that many people stuffed into some of those apartments.

And Dr. Jordan asked him further, now what will this guy do when he gets to Hartford? Do you think it’s a prospect of him finding a job? He said, no, I doubt that very seriously. And he said, well, in reference to welfare, about what do you estimate they will be paying for him in welfare? I’d estimate offhand, he has nine children, at least $5,000 annually.

So Dr. Jordan figured out and he said, well, what do you think of the man’s lifespan? He said, let’s give him 20 years. Dr. Jordan said, well, that’s $100,000. And all your Yankee corporations up there in Hartford, the life insurance company, you all been stealing all of our money anyhow. Why don’t you send $50,000 back down here, let us buy the man a farm to stay down here? At least he will be an integrated personality and there won’t be children that will be divorced from themselves. And more than likely, the prospect of the welfare system not only having to take care of this man, but his children and their children. 

But I just use this as an illustration, that I do feel that it is urgent that we try and formulate somehow that land can be purchased by private groups or foundations. That land can be leased to black people, and poor whites if they desire to come. That some option be set up where these same people, they can own their homes, the same as in land trust groups in Philadelphia. The Quaker Project, I believe, where they had one where there’s leased land, and the Federal Housing Authority loaned people  to buy the homes.

But some method be made where they can borrow money for the improvements. This will be theirs, but the land would be controlled by the land trust. But I think for the country this is important, and I think it’s something that we must give our thoughts to. Thank you.

I do feel that it is urgent that we try and formulate somehow that land can be purchased by private groups or foundations. That land can be leased to black people, and poor whites if they desire to come. That some option be set up where these same people, they can own their homes…But some method be made where they can borrow money for the improvements. This will be theirs, but the land would be controlled by the land trust…I think for the country this is important, and…it’s something that we must give our thoughts to. 

Robert Swann Discusses the Community Land Trust Model

Narrator:
The first to comment is Robert Swann, fellow of the International Independence Institute, New Hampshire.

Robert Swann: Well, I think Mr. King has very well laid out the problem, and I don’t pretend that any simple solution is at all available to us. But it does seem to me that this may be the right occasion historically, in our American situation, to initiate at least the beginnings of what we can best relate to the Jewish National Fund in Israel as an example, to guide us.

And therefore, I say it as a kind of linkage of the macro approach and the micro approach; the Jewish National Fund serving as the macro concept and the various kinds of settlements, like the moshavim and the kibbutzim serving as the micro concept. 

The Jewish National Fund has provided a channel for a land resettlement program where decision making and self-help has been the key to the program, rather than a top-down, state directed program such as in other countries. I think a number of efforts that are now underway in the South may illustrate the direction and possible growth centers, or growth nodes, for this land trust at the micro level. 

a land resettlement program where decision making and self-help has been the key to the program, rather than a top-down, state directed program such as in other countries

For example, Freedom City, which is outside of Greenville, Mississippi now, which has been initiated by the Council of Churches—it’s a delta council—may be an example, an American counterpart; that is, it has a 400 acre plot of land divided for between 40 and 100 families, which each family having about a half an acre for its own, around a community concept which includes all of the various services that would be needed for the community: health services, a community center, et cetera. Other examples now in process in the South might include the [canola?] land buyer’s association in Sumter County, Alabama, which is just getting underway, but making plans to do very much the same kind of thing on a 900 acre plot of land outside of Meridian, Mississippi.  And then there have been other smaller plots that I’m aware of. One near Selma of 12 families already relocated on a 300 acre plot. And plans are underway there to engage in the same kind of resettlement. 

There are also a number of self-help housing programs going on; in Wilcox County, for instance, there is a very viable self-help program going on, and the primary problem down there also has been to aggregate sizable tracts of land which would make self-help much more feasible than the very small plots which they’ve been attempting to get at great struggle, and many legal problems tied up in the ability to get clear title and so on.

It seems to me that there are two primary problems of all these existing efforts: lack of planning resources, and insufficient credit, or the ability to draw grant funds. I think these problems are very much linked. Planning resources, for instance, could help to maximize the chance of success by any one of them by planning the locations of such projects in a broader context and in a broader regional context. And relating them to both the political and economic growth nodes or growth centers that now exist.

By making planning resources available, the macro approach would help to attract credit and grant funds. The community development corporations, the community banks, such as Mr. Alperovitz has suggested, it seems to me would fit very well into this category as another possible source of funds. Another notion which Mr. Alperovitz touched on, that of direct linking of a for-profit organization to a nonprofit organization is, I think, a possibility for carrying the cost of the trust in purchasing land. 

If initial funds are wisely placed, and options, for instance, by a for-profit organization under experienced real estate guidance, and feasibility studies done at the sites, it is possible that the resale or releasing of these sites, finally turned over to the trust, could provide considerable income. 

Other possibilities for immediate direct fundraising have been suggested aside from the usual foundations and philanthropic sources. Mr. [indiscernible] for instance, suggested in a letter that some church denominations might be willing to tithe a certain amount per member. I think this method has been used very successfully by Leon Sullivan in Philadelphia, and in the organization which he has created there to produce funds for employment, education and industry in Philadelphia and other areas.

The other factor might be linking of towns or cities such as Mr. King was talking about, where many people have, say, moved from the Albany area to the Hartford area, and the possibility there that there might be real interest in the Hartford area in helping to make contributions to such a fund as we’re suggesting here.

One final comment on the possible use of government money. It seems to me that once the infrastructure of the trust has been established, it could provide a channel for very long range loan funds from government sources. Since a source of the trust income would be from land, not from depreciating mortgages on houses, very long range loans at very low yearly costs would be justified and sound.

Round Table Discussion with Center Fellows

Narrator: Mr. King.

Slater King: To the best of my knowledge, the land trust thing has never been produced as a solution or as a large scale means of coping with some of the problems in the South and elsewhere.

Narrator: W. H. Perry.

W. H. Perry: As the chief proponent of this in the South, have you an idea of what might be a workable hunk of property to start off with? Were you thinking about hundreds of thousands of acres, thousands of acres or hundreds of acres in your plans here?

Slater King: The only proper way I think it would be to do it there would be no number of acres, to say, X number of acres should be used. It would have to be a natural thing where you go into a community, and if you find 60 families could profitably use a 2,000 acre track that’s coming up, and it would be economically feasible after your studies, then you should go through with it. In another area, it might only be 10 farmers who were interested to begin with, and this might only require 400 or 500 acres. 

But this would be the decision of the trust, in that they might feel that there are other farmers who would like to come in, but they’re waiting to see. So let’s pick up a larger tract when we believe other people  may be coming in.

Harvey Wheeler: I don’t anything about the economics of farm operation in Georgia, but I do know a little bit about some aspects of it in the Midwest.

Narrator: Harvey Wheeler

Harvey Wheeler: Over the recent years, I guess there’s been something of an enclosure movement taking place, in which the so-called family farm is disappearing, and the creation of the factory farm is occurring. And the creation of the factory farm of course has raised the optimum number of acres for an economic operation from the mythical 200 acre farm to something over 1,000 acres. 

Now it seems to me that if there’s anything like this happening in the South, there are certain romantic aspects to this program that would seem to doom the inaugural resettlement to a kind of tragedy that we find taking place in the urban black community when we train blacks for jobs that are just about to be automated out of existence, and they are always chasing after the next job that’s going to disappear.

Slater King: But I do think that one thing that you must constantly keep in mind in the whole agricultural set up. You mentioned this thing of tremendous acreage if you go on parroting this, without really going into the real essence of it. But almost the whole farm and operation is controlled by the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service. And as this is set up now, the main product which you make money off of in the South is peanuts, and that usually depends upon your allotment that comes from them—your green based allotments, your fee for how much land that should be vital, etc.

Well, that’s what we were saying: going through the regular channels, we will never make it. It has to be a new concept. But let’s get back to economics. Let’s say a family had an income of $1,500 off of traditional crops. They have gotten some to say, try an acre of cucumbers; that’s intensive labor. They have not found machinery; they have not been able to mechanize. This takes a lot of handling.But one person, that same sharecropper that made $1,500 on the farm is often, out of one acre of cucumbers, been able to bring his income up to $2,500. So we use illustrations like [indiscernible] in Americus, Georgia, that the whites, through tearing up their crops, killing off their livestock and what have you, they had to shift to other things. They went into fruitcakes and to pecan candy, etc., which they ship all over the country. 

There are many methods that we have to consider, but I do think it’s a very good chance—and that was the reason I went into this about Farm Home Administration—when a group as conservative as they are feel that you can take a program into smaller tracts, that they have a very good chance for making a good livelihood. And often, Farm Home Administration actually has wanted to let some of them have the money, but they cannot justify letting them have improvements which have not been put on the land yet. And this is what we hoped would be done with a land trust. If arrangements had to be made to lend them money to build houses, this would be done. 

I do think, too, coming back to what you said, that a lot of this is nothing but damn rigmarole that some of these economists are talking about, because we are geared in America to the big farms, and dog on the little man. And that was one thing that did impress me in Israel. That they’re interested in people rather than these formulas, etc., you know?

…we are geared in America to the big farms, and dog on the little man. And that was one thing that did impress me in Israel. That they’re interested in people rather than these formulas, etc.

Robert Choate: I think at this point we ought to be talking about, whether it was agriculture or whether it was bringing in the small industry or whether it was the processing of domestic food supplies, as a source of income—

Narrator:  Robert Choate, from Washington, D.C. 

Robert Choate: —how then would that be best mobilized in the local community, where people would be able to remain on the land and have at least a sense of property. Whether that property itself was the source of income or via hosting an industry became the source of income for the community. 

Robert Swann: Well, the answer as far as a trust is concerned, at least as it’s been laid out here. It’s a multipurpose instrument. It can be used in the wisdom of the trustees for farming, for processing, for light industry or for whatever. It is not a commitment, as I understand it. And as I understand, he is not committed to this labor intensive notion. He is narrowly committed to the idea of the land trust as a very useful way of keeping people from moving out into the cities now. Is this a correct statement?

…the answer as far as a trust is concerned, at least as it’s been laid out here. It’s a multipurpose instrument. It can be used in the wisdom of the trustees for farming, for processing, for light industry or for whatever.

Slater King: This is a correct statement.

Eleanor Eaton: On this question responding just to the issue that you raised about the small farm and the larger farms, I think one of the factors that we have to take very seriously into account at this point is the fact that the research which has come from all of our agricultural services, the colleges, whether it’s Davis here in California or where, have been geared to, and I suspect controlled by, those people who are committed to the bigger the better, without regard either to the human factor or to the optimum use of the land and of the people in terms of human resources.

And that if we are going to subscribe to the myth that only large farms succeed, and the small family farm is finished, we should do a little research before we accept that myth. 

Narrator: Eleanor Eaton, who is coordinator of the American Friend Service Community Rural Program Center. 

Eleanor Eaton: The same is true of the whole application of the automation and mechanization, and how it applies. I was interested the other day when someone told me that they’re having to give up the mechanization of the tree shaping. I think it’s for walnuts. Because after three years, the trees died because you’ve destroyed the roots. 

Well, the same type of look at some of the benefits of mechanization as opposed to the high labor intensive programs, I think, is part of this whole problem. And I just don’t think we should just automatically say—and I think there’s enough material available to prove it—that a big farm is the only successful one. 

Don Devereux: The real fact of life regarding the large farmer and his very high profit margins at this point, with the kind of capitalization he has put to work, has been one that we have devoted public monies to an entire research establishment which backs him up, which is a subsidy. We have set up an immense commodity program which has provided a high range of profits totally out of any kind of free economy. We have  set up a soil bank program, which puts millions and millions and millions of dollars annually into the hands of the large corporate farmer.

The real fact of life regarding the large farmer and his very high profit margins at this point, with the kind of capitalization he has put to work, has been one that we have devoted public monies to an entire research establishment which backs him up, which is a subsidy. We have set up an immense commodity program which has provided a high range of profits totally out of any kind of free economy. We have  set up a soil bank program, which puts millions and millions and millions of dollars annually into the hands of the large corporate farmer.

Narrator: Don Devereux, a consultant to the HELP program in New Mexico.

Don Devereux: I think there’s going to have to be found concurrently a way to make the large corporate farm less profitable, less subsidized, in order to create a situation where the whites are going to want to sell. Right now you could wander around much of the Southwest with a good deal of money, and an awful lot of the better land is already involved in this highly profitable, highly subsidized operation. But you would have a devil of a time creating a situation where people would sell to a land trust.

Eleanor Eaton: I think there’s a large area—and I know it’s true in the south—of land which is held by people who don’t farm it and use it as tax loss. And this is a very quick way in which the elimination of that loophole, considerable amounts of land could be made available. 

Narrator: Harry S. Ashmore

Harry S. Ashmore: I think regarding what Ms. Eaton is saying, the New Deal here is with all kind of experimental farm programs going on across the South, there were various kinds of efforts made to substitute for a capital formation. There were lease plans, cooperative plans, sensitized loan programs, a variety of kinds. And I’m sure that they must have turned up a lot of proprietary experience. 

I would assume that a part of your argument, Mr. King, would be that many of these were corrupted as far as the blacks were concerned by the local administration. It was done on a discriminatory basis. But at least that was a time when the policy of the government was trying to maintain the family size farm if they could. And a lot of money was spent on that effort, and they also were trying to develop the kind of related and subsidiary activities that you speak of: marketing coops and all of that kind of thing. There was a big effort made, and we must have learned something to take out of all of that. There must be a great residue of experience in their ranks.

Rexford Tugwell: And one of the programs of the Resettlement Administration and its successors, we made farm and home loans to over a million people. And we got back 108 percent. 

Moderator: Rexford Tugwell, who was Undersecretary of Agriculture from 1934 to 1937, and is now a Center fellow.

Rexford G. Tugwell: I’m rather ashamed of this figure. I mean, we shouldn’t have gotten back so much. That eight percent, of course, is interest. But the Farm and Home program did work for five years. But I am afraid that you’re quite right in saying that prejudice crept back into the whole agricultural setup. It was always there. We couldn’t use the extension services at all. They just wouldn’t operate it to help poor people. And we had to set up one of our own. And we set up one in every county in the South. We had over 3,000 of them. They liquidated them as soon as they changed administration. 

It would be interesting to know, perhaps, if the resettlement administration could do all of these things that are in this proposal here, and it did do some of them. But it was obvious then what was going to happen. And we should have taken the measures which would have prevented all of this out migration, or a great deal of it. Large scale farming is probably going to happen in the future. If you’re talking about a generation or two, I mean, it’s going to take that long to make the transition if it is to be made. 

And there is the fact that the Farm and Home technique will certainly be available for use by a great many people, and be very successful. But I think that we have to persuade the government to do it. I don’t think you can find enough capital otherwise. 

This has nothing to do with your land trust idea, which I think is a very good one. You might call them corporations instead of a trust [chuckling]—you know, it might sound better. But to make loans to a corporation at this time, I don’t think it’s at all foreign to the kind of farm programs that people  have been getting used to. But I do think that it would be very difficult for you to fund the amount of money for a scheme of this kind outside of the government. 

Slater King: May I speak to one other thing? Going with lawyers over titles, where a black acquired land, and it was a tremendous acquisition of farmland by blacks during this period, when the government encouraged this. And of course, some whites have the same thing happen, but you know that various people go in and they take advantage of the poor whites. They take advantage of the poor blacks. They get them in debt and the land ends right back up in the counties and to big land holders. 

And this is one thing that we feel that the land trust has as an advantage. Because you know, too, that in the cities, as we go with this community development corporation, if you give a man just the money to buy a business, unless you give him the expertise and credit, or somebody to give it to him, and management, what have you done? The business is going to end up—he can’t keep it. I mean, you have to have the related things to go along with it.

Rexford G. Tugwell: We had some experience with that, too. There was a good deal of opposition to our notion that individuals on the land were safer when they were attendants than they were if they were owners. Because then they couldn’t be exploited by the local real estate people and various others. We conducted a survey in Iowa and found that 72 percent of the farmers in Iowa were tenants. Well, you couldn’t find a better farming community that that, you know? And these people  were almost unanimous in saying that this was the way they would rather do it.

Gar Alperovitz: I think in some ways, if you approach it from this side, which is a discussion of tenants and leasing arrangements, the issue of control becomes essential.  

Moderator: Gar Alperovitz.

Gar Alperovitz: I think also if you approach it from Mr. Wheeler’s side, the issue of control in the technological framework becomes essential. I think that the wholeproblem we’re talking about really is institutional arrangements which protect and control and manage technological change. Suppose Mr. Eastland’s plantation employs the new technology, reducing the need for manpower. People are excluded from that control arrangement, his plantation.

Now General Motors, at the same time, is controlling another technology and excluding people. In between are those who have no arrangement or access to either technology. And I think what’s really interesting about the land trust, which is very close to the notion of community corporation, is that it can control, by group decision, group arrangement, both pieces of technology, and negotiate the transition, whatever that may be.

…what’s really interesting about the land trust, which is very close to the notion of community corporation, is that it can control, by group decision, group arrangement, both pieces of technology, and negotiate the transition, whatever that may be.

Slater King: Well, I’m not addicted to, I mean, any one program that I’d have to have, but anyone that is able to give poor people land where they cannot be run off as easily to help make the sort of decisions in their community that they should be able to make in reference to control over their lives, I’m for that system.

So as to the specifics of how that is worked out, I cannot say exactly.

Narrator: Some months after our conference, we heard from Slater King that an organization called New Communities, Incorporated, had been formed, with himself as chairman. This is the corporate expression of Mr. Slater’s dream, formed to put into operation the land trust ideas you have just heard discussed. While this program was being edited in March of 1969, we received the news that Slater King had been killed in an automobile accident. His loss, particularly to the Southern community, has caused his colleagues to work with renewed vigor for the acquisition of 5,000 acres in southern Georgia, at a site selected by Slater King. 

This is Hal Kaufman speaking from the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara.

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Slater King

  Civil rights activist Slater King was a successful real estate broker who focused his entrepreneurial skills on farsighted plans to help African Americans in Albany and Dougherty County achieve economic independence. Initially vice president of the Albany Movement, founded in 1961, King went on to assume the presidency after Americus-born osteopath William G. Anderson stepped down from the leadership role.

Robert Swann

Robert (Bob) Swann was the founder of the E. F. Schumacher Society, now the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. In 1974 E. F. Schumacher asked Robert Swann to start a sister organization to his own Intermediate Technology Development Group, but it was not until 1980, when prompted by Resurgence editor Satish Kumar, that Swann organized the E. F. … Continued

Gar Alperovitz

Gar Alperovitz is the former Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland. Historian, political economist, activist, writer, and former government official, he is the author of numerous books, among them What Then Must We Do? (2013); Unjust Deserts, with Lew Daly (2008); America Beyond Capitalism (2005); Making a Place for Community, with David Imbroscio … Continued

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