In 1920 there were nearly one million black farmers in America; in 1999 there were fewer than 18,000. Filmmaker Charlene Gilbert travelled to Georgia, the place she calls home, where her cousin still farms the family’s land. Gilbert recounts her family history while she investigates the social and political implications of the decline of black farming, and explores the bittersweet legacy of the land, a symbol of both struggle and survival.
Homecoming ... Sometimes I Am Haunted by Memories of Red Dirt and Clay paints a picture of the courageous journey of black farmers who started as freed slaves after the Civil War. By 1910, there were 200,000 African American farmers who had bought land, a staggering number considering the poverty and discrimination they faced. However, the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision on Brown v. Board of Education polarized the whole country. Its impact in the South went far beyond the classroom; many farmers who needed credit found they suddenly couldn’t get it, a process known as “red-lining.” Gilbert unearths footage of U.S. government farm bureaucrats paying lip service to black farmers. A 1964 study of the Department of Agriculture under the Johnson administration found that there had been discrimination against African Americans in every level of the agency.
Homecoming explores the spiritual and symbolic meaning of land for black farmers in America. For Charlene Gilbert, tending a 10’ x 10’ garden plot in a Philadelphia community garden and making this film link her to the red dirt that her family farms in Georgia.
- Charlene GilbertProducer