March 16, 2021

A Sustainable Call and Response

By Caroline Randall Williams

But what happened to black landowners in the South, and particularly in the Delta, is distinct, and was propelled not only by economic change but also by white racism and local white power. A war waged by deed of title has dispossessed 98 percent of black agricultural landowners in America. They have lost 12 million acres over the past century. But even that statement falsely consigns the losses to long-ago history. In fact, the losses mostly occurred within living memory, from the 1950s onward. Today, except for a handful of farmers like the Scotts who have been able to keep or get back some land, black people in this most productive corner of the Deep South own almost nothing of the bounty under their feet.

— from “The Great Land Robbery” by Vann R. Newkirk II


What are you asking us to want — 
What are you expecting our bodies 

will remember — 
Here — 

Let me put it another way.

You say Farm to — 

          I say Field hand. 

You say Fresh produce — 

        I say strange fruit. 

You say Back to the basics. Back to the l —

        I say Return. 
Return unto us our stolen acres. Give us our land 
back again. How shall we 
                      revisit a stolen thing?

What harvest invites us home, 
          And our hands’ blood still soaked 
                        to every now decorative plough,

our pastures with a penstroke turned 
to someone else’s flock?         I say                No. 
        I say
  We have left your         notyours farms 
  for seats           at tables. 

Our ability
to    sustain          ourselves— 
is our sustenance.          Your sustainables
come always 
and too often
at our expense — 

and, well — 
          priority is 
                      as priority does — 

So — 
Call me a resource, sugar. 

Put me on your list 
of things 
          you hope
endure. 

Caroline Randall Williams

Caroline Randall Williams is a multi-genre artist and Writer in Residence at Vanderbilt University. The NAACP Image Award–winning author was named by The Root as one of the 100 Most Influential African Americans of 2020. Her work has been published and featured in multiple journals, essay collections, and news outlets, including the Iowa Review, the Massachusetts Review, the Atlantic, and the
New York Times.