Lament and hope inspire vision for land restoration

April 4, 2019

By Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith

This month, we engage the holy season of sacrifice, lament, and hope in the Christian year. The season includes Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. Lent invites us to reflect on the deeper meaning of sacrifice as many engage in prayer and fasting. Maundy Thursday draws us into community as we remember the Last Supper Jesus shared with his diverse community of disciples. Good Friday invites us to lament the persecution and dehumanization of Jesus that led to His crucifixion after he was falsely indicted, sentenced to death, imprisoned, and forced to carry his own cross with the assistance of an African man named Simon of Cyrene.

Still, in God’s divine plan of salvation and grace these mysteries of deep struggle and lament were redeemed for all of us. Such invites us to a life of transformation for the divine purpose of serving God and neighbor. When we accept this invitation to sacrificial service and advocacy it can lead to hope through our demonstrated actions, revealing the resurrected life in community with our neighbor.

This month, Bread for the World’s Pan-African Devotional Guide, “Lament and Hope,” remembers the lament of suffering, persecution, and dehumanization that African-descended people experienced with land seizures. In the post-slavery decades, sharecropping and tenant farming was a common practice for formerly enslaved people, which functionally became another form of slavery. However, some farmers succeeded in breaking out of the sharecropping cycle, and between 1870 and 1910, more than one million African Americans became farmers of their own land. But they were still at risk of having their land seized and losing out on a main source of wealth and food. White landowners could arbitrarily accuse them of being in debt and take their land or property. African Americans often could not fight these allegations since they were legally barred from bringing white Americans to court.

These barriers to land ownership continue to economically disadvantage the African American community today. African American farmers face additional challenges from globalization, technology, racially inequitable lending policies, and corporate farm buyouts. Fewer than 1 percent of the nation’s farmers are African American, who own and operate less than 2 percent of the farmland they did in 1920.

Land seizures were also experienced in South Africa and some see hope in that country’s Land Reform Process, which focuses on three areas: restitution, land tenure reform, and land redistribution. Restitution is when the government monetarily compensates people who were forcefully removed from their land. Tenure reform is a system recognizing people’s right to own land and therefore maintain control of the land. Redistribution is when land is purchased from willing owners by the government and redistributed. These policies are not without challenge but may offer some helpful learnings for thinking about hope in the African American context.

Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church Engagement at Bread for the World.

Barriers to land ownership continue to economically disadvantage the African American community today.

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