(From Left:) Slater King, Robert Swann, Marion King, Fay Bennett in Israel, 1968
In 1969, civil rights activists from the Albany Movement in Georgia founded a farm for Black farmers who had been fired for registering to vote or associating too closely with the civil rights movement. But New Communities, as the farm came to be known, was not just a refuge for Black workers — it was also a test of an ambitious new form of land management: the community land trust.
Naturally, we at VPT have focused a lot on Bob Swann’s important contributions to New Communities since he was a co-founder of VPT’s predecessor, CNVA. (Read about how Bob Swann played a crucial role in the development of the community land trust here). But we must not forget that the first community land trust in the United States was built for and by Black people, and that Bob Swann was just one contributor to the project among many.
Below is an excerpt from a 1968 interview with Slater King — a leader of the Albany Movement, a successful businessman, and one of the designers and founders of New Communities. In the interview, Slater King describes the untenable situation for Black people in Albany, Georgia and across the country in the 1960s. Then, King argues that social and political freedom are intimately connected to economic sustainability; when one is weak, the other often fails, too. His urgent language seems to have been effective in attracting greater interest and funding — New Communities, Inc. would be founded less than a year after this interview was conducted.
Slater King: It was very interesting listening to Mr. Alperovitz about how people all over the country are becoming very interested in controlling their own destiny in the community, and deciding that they want to make decisions themselves without this being done for them. It really made me reminisce as to how my father believed implicitly in the right of individual ownership, and to think I had come to this point to accept the premise of a land trust for blacks and whites in the South.
The area that I do come from is in the heart of a tremendous black belt, an area with very, very fertile land. Outside of the delta of the Mississippi, there would be no other area that would have a heavier concentration of blacks in the South in a 50 mile radius, and the area in which I live in.
In fact, this was the same area that Dr. Du Bois came at the turn of the century to write the book about the black peasantry who lived there, which is The Souls of Black Folk. This has been one of the most repressive areas in the country where blacks were concerned. We had been interested in being able to take the decisions of our own destiny in our own hands, and out of this came the Albany movement.
Our area was one of the first, after the demonstrations by college students, of a real community. A grassroots community, people from all areas, coming together with the students, and attempting through demonstrations and other things to do away with segregated institutions. Many blacks felt that these demonstrations would change the minds of whites. Unfortunately, I never had that sort of optimism.
My only interest was in reference to changing the image, the concept they would have of themselves. That it would make black people feel that they had power to do something about the circumstances and the situation of their lives.
I thought about how Dr. Martin Luther King and I, that we were in jail together in the same cell in Albany. We spent many hours in conversation. And my saying to him repeatedly that I had really hoped that out of the demonstrations, out of SCLC coming in to work with us, that there would be a concomitant commitment, carryover, desire on their part to work with us in the economic sector. Because after having people fired from jobs, etc., for our demonstrations, unless I hear some follow through, to give Negros some economic power in the community, then things are left in a worse situation than they were when it started. And he concurred with this, and it is interesting that he would constantly say that “I really wish that I knew more about economics. And that there was more that I could do in this area.”
[...]But I merely use this as a base of the importance of us giving Negros who want to change the society an alternative, too. Because they must have some type of economic stability.
In our area, thousands of acres of land were purchased by blacks—this was after the end of slavery. But through many ways, through different machinations legally and that all of the machinery of law is controlled by whites in the South, much of the land was taken over.
Something else that has interested me is that since 1955, as a real estate broker, that we have actually sold thousands of acres in our firm, where people come back from areas such as Watts in Chicago and New York blacks, to sell the farms that their people have accumulated through very, very terrific efforts.
And what has been more disconcerting is often to see members of these families who sometimes would like to stay there, but they are not able to get the money to buy out the rest of them. So it means a farm is purchased, and each time it’s been purchased, it is always been whites who have purchased it. And that the owners have been looking for the highest price that they can get.
But what is interesting is, this is just not a phenomenon in Albany, Georgia. That in talking to other brokers over the South, it is a thing that is pretty general. And one reason that I had addressed this thing of a land trust to certain white friends: it seems that the only people who are really working in this area are the black nationalists, who have come into the South, and who are buying large tracts of land. And what is amazing to me is that some blacks come back out of the North, some of them who were service based and who had a fairly secure life in the North, but who liked farming and who were willing to come back to run some of these farms, for these people.
[...]But I just use this as an illustration, that I do feel that it is urgent that we try and formulate somehow that land can be purchased by private groups or foundations. That land can be leased to black people, and poor whites if they desire to come. That some option be set up where these same people, they can own their homes, the same as in land trust groups in Philadelphia. The Quaker Project, I believe, where they had one where there’s leased land, and the Federal Housing Authority loaned people to buy the homes.
But some method be made where they can borrow money for the improvements. This will be theirs, but the land would be controlled by the land trust. But I think for the country this is important, and I think it’s something that we must give our thoughts to. Thank you.
[Read the full interview here. Included in the link is also Bob Swann’s interview directly following Slater King’s. Content warning: the full interview contains some disturbing descriptions of racist violence against Black people and callous descriptions of living conditions for some poor Black people.]
We at VPT are already starting to plan some summer events, including the arrival of the Golden Rule in New London, CT in June. As the world’s first modern protest ship and a vessel originally operated by the CNVA, the Golden Rule has strong historical ties to VPT. We at VPT will put on some public events related to the ship in the months before it arrives as well as when the ship is here. To stay in the loop about these events, sign up for our newsletter: http://eepurl.com/Oqf99
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King, Slater, Robert Swann, Gar Alperovitz. “Rural Development: Rich Land for Poor.” Center for New Economics. https://centerforneweconomics.org/publications/rural-development-rich-land-for-poor/
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