Agriculture and Agricultural Labor.
- Carmen V. Harris
The history of African Americans in the United States is intimately intertwined with the history of American agriculture. From the colonial era to the early nineteenth century, the labor of African Americans—enslaved ones, specifically—powered American agribusiness, producing crops such as cotton, tobacco, rice, and sugar. Although emancipation ended African Americans’ legal bondage as agricultural laborers, African Americans remained a significant portion of the Americans who made their living by agricultural labor. U.S. census statistics from 1900 through 1954 show that during that time African Americans constituted an average of 28.7 percent of the nation's farm operators. Between 1954 and 1959, the percentage of African American farmers dropped by nearly 9 points. Since 1959 the number of African American farmers—then 265,261—has continued to dwindle until in the early twenty-first century there were only about 15,000 African American farmers remaining, which is less than 0.2 percent of all American farmers.
A version of this article originally appeared in The Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present.