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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Esser, June-August 1990. Interview L-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A government program undermines African American farmers

The small farm is the base of the black community, Esser explains, and that base is disappearing. He worries that government efforts to shore up the system, such as Farmer's Home, a division of the Department of Agriculture that offered loans to buy rural homes and farms, actually hurt rural African Americans. He believes that the program's director, Larry Godwin, used the loans to deliberately damage the black community.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Esser, June-August 1990. Interview L-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

One thing I want to talk about a little bit, George, before we go back and talk about your youth in Virginia, and that is, when you were talking about your work in the east, we didn't really talk about agriculture, and that's a major component down there. I want to know what's going on and what the state in thinking and maybe North Carolina State Extension about the problems of agriculture in the east of North Carolina.
GEORGE ESSER:
Well, I'm not as well informed generally on agricultural policy as I should be. I think it is interesting, however. First of all, the small farm is disappearing, and with it the base of the black community in farming. The black farms that are remaining are very heavily along the northeastern rim of North Carolina, from about, well, let's say, 1-85 east. Now, it goes down more than one layer in some areas. I ran into a lot of anger against Farmer's Home, for example, since '84. Farmer's Home would, under some administrations, encourage people to take more loans than they needed, and then under the Reagan administration, until it was stopped, they were trying to foreclose.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Call them in.
GEORGE ESSER:
Call them in.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Was that a deliberate ploy to run the small farmers out.
GEORGE ESSER:
Oh, I think so, yeah.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Probably.
GEORGE ESSER:
There was more symbolic language used, such as, belief that you paid your on bills and so forth, but there was no recognition on the part of the… And we had a perfectly terrible man named, well, a terrible man? He was probably very moral, I don't know. But he was not interested in poor people or black people, and he was a Heims protegee. The director of Farmer's Home under Reagan, named Larry Godwin…
FRANCES WEAVER:
That's a name I remember.
GEORGE ESSER:
You would get projects right up to him, well, Roanoke-Amerant got right up to him. And the Farmer's Home arrangements for loans for construction in rural areas was much better than HUD's, but he decided that available money should be spent on rescue stations and volunteer fire departments, etc. I do know that the poor black community, and here we're talking about more of the small farmers in northeastern North Carolina, do not have confidence in the Extension Service. They have confidence in some extension agents who are black, but they do not have confidence in the service itself. I think that it is clearly true that the Extension Service has been very weak in its leadership for crops to replace tobacco.