Within the southern region of the United States lies a rural landscape called the Black Belt, a sub-region that was formed through the enforcement of a racially-based exclusionary politics to support an extractive agrarian enterprise and secure power for an elite minority. This sub-region is commonly associated with historic and ongoing oppressive institutions and the resulting social disparities, such as high rates of poverty, low education levels, health disparities, and deep racial divides. However, African American communities in the Black Belt have a history of resistance and organizing that have contributed to an alternative social landscape. This presentation will detail the efforts of African American famers and farm cooperatives in the Black Belt who have used agriculture and land-based economic development to build independent and culturally relevant spaces that refuse and resist the dominant socio-political structures. Drawing on participatory research and collaborative filmmaking, this presentation will focus on the daily activities and experiences of the farmers and organizers who struggle to enact political change and economic growth, while also promoting a uniquely Black agrarian culture.
Sarah Franzen is currently a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Wolf Humanities Center at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her PhD from Emory University’s Institute of the Liberal Arts department, her MA from Manchester University in Visual Anthropology, and a BA from Colorado State University. Her interdisciplinary research integrates theories of visual anthropology, rural development, and critical race studies with multi-modal ethnographic methods order to examine community-based agriculture as a form of social change. She has worked extensively with African American farm cooperatives for the past five years as a researcher, filmmaker, and participant.