Why is less than 1% of rural land in the U.S. owned by Black people? An acclaimed writer and activist explores the impact of land theft and violent displacement on racial wealth gaps, arguing that justice stems from the literal roots of the earth.
To understand the contemporary racial wealth gap, we must first unpack the historic attacks on Indigenous and Black land ownership. From the moment that colonizers set foot on Virginian soil, a centuries-long war was waged, resulting in an existential dilemma: Who owns what on stolen land? Who owns what with stolen labor? To answer these questions, we must confront one of this nation’s first sins: stealing, hoarding, and commodifying the land.
Research suggests that between 1910 and 1997, Black Americans lost about 90% of their farmland. Land theft widened the racial wealth gap, privatized natural resources, and created a permanent barrier to access that should be a birthright for Black and Indigenous communities. Rooted traces the experiences of Brea Baker’s family history of devastating land loss in Kentucky and North Carolina, identifying such violence as the root of persistent inequality in this country. Ultimately, her grandparents’ commitment to Black land ownership resulted in the Bakers Acres—a haven for the family where they are sustained by the land, surrounded by love, and wholly free.
A testament to the Black farmers who dreamed of feeding, housing, and tending to their communities, Rooted bears witness to their commitment to freedom and reciprocal care for the land. By returning equity to a dispossessed people, we can heal both the land and our nation’s soul.