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Common Reading 2020-21: Listen. Learn. Act. The 1619 Project Podcast & This is My America

This year's theme, Listen. Learn. Act., is dedicated to learning about Black peoples and their experiences especially in the US

Listen to Episode 5 of '1619'

The Land of Our Fathers

In this episode, we meet June and Angie Provost, sugarcane farmers in Louisiana. According to The Daily, the Provosts "trace their family line to the enslaved workers on Louisiana’s sugar-cane plantations. The story they tell — of land worked, gained and lost — carries the weight of the discrimination and dispossession that have defined the brutal history of sugar farming."

Producer Adizah Eghan, right, with June Provost at the cemetery in Patoutville, La., where his father is buried.Credit...Annie Brown/The New York Times

Producer Adizah Eghan, right, with June Provost at the cemetery in Patoutville, La., where his father is buried. Credit: Annie Brown/The New York Times

Logo of headphones over the word ListenListen to the Episode

40 Acres and a Mule

40 Acres and a Mule

In 1865, Major General W. T. Sherman issued Special Field Orders No. 15 to give land to freed families to cultivate and reside on. In later conversations, he suggested providing former army mules to those families. When President Andrew Jackson took office, he reversed and annulled this and other efforts, but "40 Acres and a Mule" is a phrase that continues to resonate today in conversations about reparations and what was owed to Black people during post-Civil War Reconstruction.

Photo of Sharecroppers in 1949 from Georgia Archives via

Photo "Sharecropers" (1949), courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia Collection

Reconstruction and Sharecropping

Listen to a Family's Story

The Question of Reparations

What are Reparations?

People have been calling for the harms done to enslaved people and their descendants to be "repaired" since before the end of slavery in the US (Brown Report on Slavery and Justice).


Trans-Africa executive director Randall Robinson published the book, The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks was published. In it, he explores the topic of reparations with both its historical context and a view towards the future. It became a bestseller. Ibram X. Kendi writes in Stamped from the Beginning that this book, and other antiracist efforts around the world, "smashed into a brick wall in the aftermath of September 11, 2001" (p. 477).

June 2014

The case for reparations gained renewed attention when Ta-Nehisi Coates published "The Case for Reparations" in The Atlantic Magazine in June, 2014, just two short months before Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, sparking a renewed national debate about police brutality and systemic violence against Black citizens.

June 2020

Nikole Hannah-Jones added her voice to this conversation in the essay, "What is Owed," published in the New York Times Magazine. This was published a month and three days after George Floyd was killed during an arrest by Minneapolis police, whose death sparked worldwide protests, some policy changes, and ongoing effects in US culture and business.

Food Deserts

What is a Food Desert?

According a 2012 USDA report, Characteristics and Influential Factors of Food Deserts, “'food deserts,' [are] regions of the country often feature large proportions of households with low incomes, inadequate access to transportation, and a limited number of food retailers providing fresh produce and healthy groceries for affordable prices." .

A 2009 report to Congress, Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences (USDA), found "23.5 million people live in low-income areas that are further than 1 mile from a large grocery store or supermarket, and that 11.5 million of these people have low incomes themselves."

Do you live near a food desert? 

Use the link below to use the Food Access Research Atlas. The map is based on census tract data, so you may want to review the Atlas' documentation before using the tool.

Meet Ron Finley

According to his website, Ron lived in a food desert: "He knew what it’s like to drive 45 minutes just to get a fresh tomato." Listen to Ron Finley's TED Talk below to learn how he transformed the strip of land outside his house into a garden and the adversity he faced from the city.

Food Sovereignty

What is Food Sovereignty?

According to the National Family Farm Coalition site, the Declaration of Nyéléni, the first global forum on food sovereignty (Mali, 2007) defines food sovereignty as:

"...The right of peoples to healthy and culturally-appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations."

Black Farmers

In her book Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery, bell hooks writes, “Collective black self-recovery takes place when we begin to renew our relationship to the earth, when we remember the way of or ancestors….Living in modern society, without a sense of history, it has been easy for folks to forget that black people were first and foremost a people of the land, farmers.” 

Black Farming Advocacy Organizations

Organizations like those linked below advocate for farmer rights and issues related to land use. The first three links are for organizations in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.

Podcast Episodes about Black Farming

In a recent podcast, Mother Jones sat down with author and agricultural activist, Leah Penniman, to discuss the rarely acknowledged history of African American farming in the United States.

Black Food Matters: Race and Equity in the Good Food Movement

In this video, Devita Davison, director of marketing and communications at FoodLab Detroit, shares the story of Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, explaining the barriers there still are today for food entrepreneurs of color. FoodLab Detroit is transforming Detroit’s local food economy by supporting a diverse community of food businesses and allies working to make good food a sustainable reality for all Detroiters.

Pigford v. Glickman: A Lawsuit against the USDA for Civil Rights Violations in Farm Loans

Pigford v. Glickman

In 1997, Black farmers brought a class action lawsuit against the USDA alleging systemic discrimination in the farm loan process. The case, Pigford v. Glickman, resulted in one of the largest federal settlements for civil rights rights violations, approximately $1.06 billion in cash, tax and debt relief. However, problems with the settlement agreement resulted in many farmers filing too late to submit a claim. The subsequent litigation (In re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation or Pigford II) resulted in a settlement of $1.2 billion.

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UO LibrarySearch - Find articles, books, and more

LibrarySearch offers a streamlined interface for finding books and other media that combines the collections of UO Libraries and Summit libraries.

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Books About Slavery & Labor

Sugar Cane and Narratives of Enslaved People

In episode 5, part 1 of the 1619 Project podcast, June Provost discusses farming sugarcane in Louisiana. A well-known narrative of a formerly-enslaved sugarcane worker comes from a marron (cimarrón in Spanish), a runaway slave in Cuba who worked on sugarcane plantations. This narrative is fascinating for both its content and how it came to be. The early edition by Miguel Barnet is considered to be the first Latin American testimonial novel, blurring the lines between fiction and nonfiction. 

The (Auto)Biography of a Runaway Slave

There are multiple editions of this book, and these are just a few of the copies available through UO Libraries.

Context and Background

North American Narratives of Enslaved People

Additional links to narratives from those who survived slavery and primary sources like photographs and oral histories can be found on other pages of this guide.

Christianity and Chattel Slavery

"Give us our Daily Bread"

The second part of this episode opens with June Provost, a sugar cane farmer, and his wife Angie praying the "Our Father" or "Lord's Prayer," which comes from the Bible in the Christian tradition. In the prayer, people ask God to "give us our daily bread." 

These books below are just a few titles that explore the complex history of Christianity and Afro-descendent peoples in the US.