(bright music) - [Speaker] This is a production of PBS Charlotte.
(bright music) (leaves crinkling) - [Narrator] To truly fully understand the collective agricultural history of the United States, you have to explore the crucial role that African American farmers have played.
Coming up on Trail of History, discover the legacy of African American farmers who, despite the legacy of slavery and discrimination, have persevered and contributed to the growth of our nation.
- America would not be what it is without the African American farmer - [Narrator] Meet farmers with decades of family farming tradition, and learn what it meant to them to buy land.
- Land was associated with freedom.
- [Narrator] We'll visit an urban farm in Charlotte that's growing fresh produce and livestock, proving that small farms can have a huge impact.
Then, we'll meet a South Carolina couple with a passion for horses and a connection to the legacy of Black cowboys.
All that and more, on Trail of History.
(upbeat music) (bright music) Welcome to the Cathcart Farm.
- This is a 60 acre farm, was purchased by my grandfather and grandmother and their oldest son, Larkin, in 1924.
It's been in the family ever since.
- [Narrator] In 1924, it was often a challenge for a Black farmer to find someone willing to sell them land, but with the opportunity, the family made the most of their 60 acres.
- And you go back into the day, it was your traditional type of farm, which was cotton and corn.
Cotton was, you know, was your cash crop.
Everybody around you just about grew cotton, and you had to have corn for your animals and corn for yourself because you made corn meal out of that.
You know, we had to plow, you know, tend the fields, pick the cotton.
Everybody had to have a garden cause you grew your food.
- [Narrator] Cathcart moved away from the farm to pursue other ambitions, including playing professional baseball in the Negro Leagues.
But eventually, the farm called him back.
At over 80 years old, he's slowed down a bit, but still manages to grow a few things, tend to his chickens and horse.
Today, it's a bit of a paradise for Cathcart and his family.
But to truly appreciate what the land means to Cathcart and other African American farmers, we must explore the institution of slavery and the system of sharecropping that replaced slavery after the Civil War.
(soft music) - Over the course of the 18th century, slavery grew more important in the American economy.
More enslaved Africans were imported into the colonies than free European migrants came over during the 18th century, and this is a period that's known as the Age of the American Revolution, all these ideas of freedom and democracy.
But slavery was steadily growing on during this time period.
- [Narrator] UNC Charlotte Professor of History, Christopher Cameron, says enslaved African Americans brought with them unique farming skills such as pottery, basket weaving, and metalworking.
But their knowledge and the cultivation of a certain cash crop proved invaluable.
- African knowledges of rice cultivation is really what helped to make that the staple crop of South Carolina and Georgia.
- [Narrator] By the time of the American Civil War, there were an estimated 4 million enslaved people, including Wali Cathcart's ancestors.
Right as the war was winding down, there was a push to give the now freed men 40 acres of land and a mule.
- To fast forward to Sherman's March, which started in late 1864, when he got to Savannah in early 1865, Key and Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, met with a group of Black leaders in Savannah, and they made it very clear that for them, freedom meant land ownership and that's where you get Special Field Order 15, where he would set aside 40 acres for any family that wanted to work it and provide them with mules that the Army could no longer use.
So, this was in January of 1865.
Within five months or so, roughly 40,000 freed people had been settled on what came to be called Sherman's Land.
(bright music) - [Narrator] But that program would be short-lived.
- President Andrew Johnson, who took over after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, he revoked that order in the summer of 1865, just as it was really getting going, and then uses the Army to kick the freed people off of it, right?
So they'd been given the land by an Army general, and then the Army then comes and takes them off of the land.
- [Narrator] Without an enslaved workforce to work the cotton fields and other crops, landowners turn to sharecropping.
- It was seen as, you know, something of a compromise by the freed people, right?
They wanted their own land, they wanted independence and autonomy.
If they couldn't get their own land, this was the next best thing because what they would do is they would rent a parcel of land from the white owner of the land and they would farm it, right?
They'd be given horses, a mule, farm utensils, they would farm it, and then at the end of the year, they would divide up the crop, 50/50.
- During my childhood, I guess you say the colloquial expression by African-American was "havas", "Are you working on Havas?"
The land owner provided the land, the dwelling, the house, and whatever material was needed.
The tenant, the sharecrop-ee provided the labor.
But during the course of the year, you had to get whatever substance that you needed from, you know, the landowner, whatever that was was added on a list.
And whatever it tapped up to be at the end of the cotton crop season was deducted from your half.
Most of the time, it took all of what you made and then more, it continued year after year.
And if you know anything about sharecropping, I call it an just a graded down version of slavery, because it was a perpetual debt.
- [Narrator] The sharecropping system and systemic racism kept many Black farmers and their families from owning land.
- Because, you know, the white farm, the planters didn't want them to own land because that would've taken them away from their sharecrop and that depended on, so they were not, they were not going to make land easily available for the African American at that time.
- [Narrator] But a lucky few, like the Cathcarts, were able to become landowners and to a population who had been oppressed for so long, Cathcart says, owning land... - If you could get some land and get off, it was the only way to get free.
So, land was associated with freedom.
- [Narrator] Cathcart says he's not sure what will eventually happen to the land that's been in his family for nearly a century.
- I think we will be all right here.
I don't have, we don't have enough of the younger people in my family who want to spend time out here on the farm.
(rooster crows) Let's come out here and have fun, and there's so much fun that can be had on the farm.
(bright music) - [Narrator] Up here, in Cabarrus County, one man sought to return to farm life.
- [Paul] There's almost 55 acres here.
I was shooting for 100.
- [Narrator] Meet Paul Brewington.
- We purchased the property here, my wife and I, back in 1989.
- [Narrator] Paul grew up farming in Eastern North Carolina but after time in the military, time as a game and fishing officer, and finally a three decade career in telecommunications, and now into his seventies, he's back in his happy place, farming on his own land.
- Yeah, sweet potatoes, you know, corn, tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, all that kind of stuff.
- [Narrator] His produce is in high demand.
- [Paul] Goes to the farmer's market.
I also sell to restaurants.
- [Narrator] On this particular day, he's filling an order for a local food pantry.
- Finishing off an order for CCM, that is the pantry in Concord.
Most of these pantries that you see, when they're giving away food, very seldom that you see fresh green produce.
- [Narrator] It's mostly a solo adventure.
- This is a one man operation.
When I say one man operation, basically I do probably 90% of this myself.
I'm used to this.
I was born and raised on a farm, you know, the oldest out of 10 children, I'm 71 years of age, got issues from Vietnam War, but I still can outwork two or three good young men, you know, but I pretty much take care of this, you know, by myself.
- [Narrator] As you might imagine, the farming is deeply rooted inside Paul Brewington.
- I knew that my grandfather, I knew he was a farmer, my father was, here I am.
On my family farm, we grew a lot of produce, but we grew a lot of cattle, a lot of hogs, and tobacco was the main crop at that time.
- [Narrator] Unlike many African American farmers who share cropped after the Civil War, Brewington's family... - [Paul] Always owned their land.
- [Narrator] But owning that land didn't necessarily mean immunity from inequalities and unfair treatment.
- We didn't receive any assistance, so to speak, from the government.
I can recall, on one occasion, that my father say, you know, "All these white guys around here getting all this money from the government to farm and stuff, all these loans and stuff."
So, but he went and tried and, of course, he was turned down and he had all the experience, you know, and there was others never had experience but they was white and they was able to get their, get their loans from the government to do this and that.
So my dad said, "Well, to heck with it.
I don't need that, we're doing all right without it."
- [Narrator] Across the United States, African-American farmers experienced similar challenges when applying for federal farm loans and subsidies.
- One of the major problems was, the African American farmer that was able to get money to farm with, it was always after the white farmers has got all their money first.
Therefore, the season was late.
So whenever they did get money, those that did, they were already behind.
So, subsequently, what happens with that?
Even if they grew it, it didn't make, they didn't have the money to pay on their loan.
So, a lot of 'em lost their land.
- [Narrator] After serving in the Vietnam War, Brewington experienced something similar to his father.
- The program was for Vietnam veterans, that they could, you know, borrow money to go in business or whatever they wanted to do.
I wanted to farm, so I decided to take advantage of that program but I applied, as a matter of fact, two or three times, and of course, I was turned down.
- [Narrator] According to everycrsreport.com, in 1997, 2 farmers, including Brewington's brother, filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Agriculture on behalf of African Americans.
The suit claimed that from 1983 to 1997, the agency had discriminated against Black farmers on the basis of race and failed to investigate or properly respond to complaints.
- To this day, even though they won the lawsuit, which was the largest class action lawsuit in United States history, there are a lot of those Black farmers that restitution has yet to be paid to 'em.
So, you know, it's still an ongoing... - [Narrator] Today, after decades on and off the farm, Paul Brewington's life has circled back to where he started, and the rewards for all of his hard work.
- Freedom, freedom to do what you want to do and how you want to do it.
You know, as old saying, go, what?
"You can take the boy outta the country, but you can't take the country out the boy."
(bright music) - [Narrator] Behind this house in Northwest Charlotte, you'll find something special.
- Deep Roots is a small farm that specializes in urban agriculture.
- [Narrator] And, there's meaning in that name.
- Connection and the depth, if you would, of it, of connection to the land, to the community, family.
- [Narrator] Small but mighty describes the farm best.
- [Wisdom] We're roughly seven acres.
- [Narrator] Seven acres for Wisdom Jzar and his wife, Cherie's chickens, goats, horses, and a cornucopia of vegetables.
- It's seasonal.
So, right now we're eggplant, okra, squash, zucchini, tomatoes.
We also are in mushroom season, so we're producing oysters and lion's mane, shiitake mushrooms.
- [Narrator] The work seemingly appears never ending.
- [Wisdom] It's a 24 hour, seven days a week type deal, you know?
You just hope to break it up into manageable chunks.
- [Narrator] Now, you might think this farming duo came from a long line of family farmers but believe it or not, they're actually first generation.
- Where I get my love for growing is from my mother.
So, we always had a garden.
A kitchen garden, no matter where we lived.
And I just remember picking fresh tomatoes and vegetables and just loving that, but not a farm.
Definitely not with animals and not to this capacity.
- [Wisdom] We were seeking to be self-sufficient.
So we started homesteading first, right?
- [Narrator] The quest for self-sufficiency started at a different house, but that initial introduction was all it took.
- When we got a taste of it, like what it made you feel like, the empowerment that came from it, it was like this is where you wanna be.
- [Narrator] So with a new passion for urban farming, they started Deep Roots CPS in 2019.
- It was established as an urban agricultural company focusing on urban farming, farm development, and educational opportunities for mainly people of color.
I'm an urban planner, so that's my passion and background.
So, I really understand the urban environment and I sort of slid into this, sort of, passion because I'm like, we need to be more conscious of where our food comes from, and it can't only just come from the grocery stores.
It has to be some way grown on your own property, if you have it, or on somebody else's property that you go purchase.
- We noticed that others needed that same thing.
You know, everybody has a plot of land somewhere.
There's so many people who have needs and we like, you know, that could be a part of what we do for people is help them be self-sustainable, you know?
Help them use some of this open space to be, to grow their own food.
- [Narrator] In 2022, the couple moved to this seven acre property to expand production of farm fresh products such as vegetables and eggs.
(bright music) The Jzars sell their goods at area farmer's markets with the hope of making a positive impact on food deserts in Charlotte, although Cherie refers to them by a different name.
- I call it a food swamp, because there are communities, especially on the northwest side of Charlotte, that are filled with fast food and foods that are low density in terms of nutrients.
I believe that over time, you know, with the onset of fast foods, our communities have gotten used to that being the type of food we eat.
We've gotten used to, acclimated to eating that and it's filled with those types of foods.
So, we do have access to food but it's not the high quality foods that would lend to having a high quality of life and great health outcomes.
- The local, fresh, organic produce is really important for a lot of people, a lot of different communities.
But to have that access, I think people really enjoy that and it's been, allowed us to sustain ourself in terms of our business.
- [Narrator] Cherie says it is possible to have a positive influence while still running a business.
- That's the example we wanna set, that you can be a for-profit business and deeply rooted in the community with values that really serve the community that you live in.
Serve the community that you want to see flourish, and that's the Black community.
And, it is amazing.
(bright music) - [Narrator] There's much more going on at Deep Roots than just the business side of things.
- Every one of our children are integral part of this and our whole journey into this process, they've been locked step with us.
So, even with all the technologies, and the phones, and the this, and that, they've been grounded and you know, we've been blessed to have children who actually appreciate it.
And of course, like all children, they don't want wanna do all the work all the time, much rather be doing something else.
But, they are really into the jobs they have.
- [Narrator] One thing that is not lost on the Jzars as first generation African American farmers, representation in the agricultural landscape.
- Looking around and trying to find other Black farmers.
Man, there's very few of us.
- That cultivation of land has not been somewhere we've stayed in, right?
For the last 50 years.
And so, we wanted to have an intentional for-profit business to bring that back, right?
For ourselves, and our family, and then those in the community who have that same desire.
- [Narrator] Beyond their own children, Wisdom hopes their urban farm inspires the next generation to explore agriculture as a possible business.
- The idea here is that we are not just growing food, we wanna grow new farmers, right?
So, young people who may have not been exposed once they can come here and get exposed to farming and not just the labor aspect and production aspect, but even the business side and saying that there is a a market here that you can prosper from.
- [Narrator] It's evident Wisdom and Cherie Jzar are sowing the seeds of growth and change at Deep Roots.
- It's a blessing, right?
There's just a blessing and I'm glad, I'm glad to be given the opportunity to be stewards of this land and to carry on, and hopefully have a legacy in place for my children.
- And my heart is full, heart is full.
It's a wonderful feeling to have been given this opportunity, you know, to see those children, to see my children, you know, have this opportunity that, honestly, I didn't have.
- And the example we're setting, I just hope it catches on.
And we have a 100 farms in Charlotte and people who want to do it, whether they're Black, or brown, or whatever, I hope my children's children and children's children can talk about what our efforts were, whether we're successful or not, what we tried to do.
(western music) - [Narrator] From the dawn of the moving picture, the Western genre has filled movie theaters and living rooms.
It's not uncommon to see a romanticized version of the American West and the cowboy lifestyle but often missing from early movies television shows, and even photographs of the West, African-Americans.
- You didn't know African-American cowboy existed, and you took the knowledge that you saw on television.
There were white cowboys and they, and Hollywood made a hero out of 'em and left us out.
- [Narrator] Meet modern day cowboy, Mark Myers.
- [Mark] I grew up on the farm and we were fortunate.
One of the few Blacks that had TV at that time.
- [Narrator] His wife, Sandra, says those early Westerns shaped her husband.
- He wanted to be Ben Cartwright, he wanted to be, have a place like Bonanza.
- [Mark] And then, I liked that lifestyle.
I liked the horses, you know?
- [Narrator] While it's not the Wild West here, in Rembert, South Carolina, the Myers embraced the cowboy life here at Greenfield Farm.
It's a place for their horses and a place to welcome others, like Ronnie Scott.
- I'm the president of the Sumter High Stepper Horse Club.
- [Narrator] On this particular weekend, the Sumter High Steppers showed up at Greenfield Farm in mass to enjoy a weekend of equestrian adventures and fellowship.
- [Mark] Come from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina.
- [Narrator] Besides activities happening in the arena, one of the group's most popular activities takes over the small country roads surrounding the farm.
- [Mark] Ride, the trail ride's about two, two and a half, three hour ride.
- [Narrator] Events like this are all part of the Myers' plans for their farm, making it a destination for other equestrian enthusiasts.
And share, they do.
Each May, Mark and Sandra host the annual Black Cowboy Festival at Greenfield Farm.
- Folks come from all over just to be, for the food, the fellowship, you name it.
- [Narrator] The festival draws in an estimated 3000 people and the Myers fill the weekend with activities to celebrate the legacy of the Black cowboy and cowgirl.
From the opening ceremonies featuring the Buffalo Soldiers, to various rodeo events and trail rides.
According to Ronnie Scott, one group in particular benefits from events like the Black Cowboy Festival and the Sumter High Stepper's Trail Ride Weekend.
The next generation of cowboys and cowgirls.
- We try to get 'em away for those those iPad and the telephone man, put 'em out there in the horses.
Let 'em feed them, water them, teach 'em the responsibility of doing something, you know?
- [Narrator] But, there's more going on at Greenfield Farm such as making sure the legacy of horsemanship in the African American community is shared.
- Well, if you go back to your history, you know, we had Black cowboys back in the days, but, you know, we wasn't recognized or I guess we gon' call it pushed to side, but you know, you still have a lot of Black cowboys and we try to do our thing.
- We are the original cowboy for America, and we brought these skills with us from the homeland, and the master gave us that name.
He named us.
And, at that time, the word cowboy, you were, that was a derogatory term, you know?
You to the bottom of the list, you ain't nothin' but a cowboy.
I love for people to know the history behind it.
Know the part that you played in history so when a conversation come up, you can give them both sides of the story, not one side of the story.
- [Narrator] To the Myers, Greenfield Farms means more than just a place for their horses.
Both Sandra and Mark grew up nearby.
And when the couple purchased the land more than 30 years ago, Sandra's connection with the land was instantaneous.
- So we came on this property first, before we even talked to the gentleman that we bought it from.
Picked up the soil in our hands and claimed it.
This property is part of the old Spencer Plantation, it's actually property that my fore parents were slaves on.
For my husband and I to own it just means a whole lot.
- [Narrator] The land itself isn't the only unique connection on the property for Sandra.
- The building behind me is actually the old slave cabin that my great-great-great grandmother was, lived in when she was a slave on this property.
But, I didn't even realize that the home was hers.
My dad was the one that told me, "Don't tear that building down.
You know, that's where your great-great-great grandmother lived when she was a slave on this property."
I was amazed at that.
That was just like unreal to me.
- [Narrator] These past three decades have been a journey for the Meyers.
Greenfield Farm has become their home.
- When I go on the hill, that's where I go to commune.
I can see my ancestors when I'm sitting on that hill.
It's hard to explain how I really feel, you know, it just makes my heart full.
- Very few people can say, "I live my dream."
I, maybe not was a millionaire, but I was, I'm able to live my dream.
I'm able to touch people lives.
I'm able to change people lives because of what we do here.
- [Narrator] And the couple hopes to not only pass on the legacy of the Black cowboy.
For the family, the hope is to pass on much more.
- [Sandra] Want my children, and my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren all to be able to, you know, feel like I feel about this property.
(soft music) - [Narrator] The legacy of African Americans in agriculture and their impact on the nation's prosperity is often overlooked, but it's hard to ignore, according to Wali Cathcart.
- One thing about African-Americans, they were always creative and innovative.
Whatever was thrown their way, they seem to take it, be able to take it and come up with a way to exist.
- [Narrator] And while Paul Brewington now has his own land to farm, with a bit of sense of humor, he adds, - We were promised 40 acres and a mule.
Well, I got the 40 acres, but I don't got no mule yet.
(Paul laughs) - [Narrator] So, next time you're at the grocery store or farmer's market, you might think about the farmers in the fields growing the food we eat.
Consider the contributions made by African Americans in agriculture.
Thank you for watching this episode of Trail of History.
(upbeat music) (bright music) - [Speaker] A production of PBS Charlotte.