In search of the New Farmers of America
Remembering America's forgotten Black youth farm movement
Keywords:New Farmers of America, Black Youth Farm Movement, Black Youth, Black Farmers, Agricultural Education, Agriculture, Beginning Farmers
Any historical narrative is a particular bundle of silences, the result of a unique process, and the operation required to deconstruct these silences will vary accordingly.
—Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past, p. 27
On October 13, 1965, the New Farmers of America (NFA) disappeared without a trace. The organization had operationalized one of the largest Black youth farm movements in American history and boasted a membership of over 50,000 Black farm boys studying vocational agriculture in public high schools in 18 states across the South and parts of the East Coast. They were last seen in the shadows of the Jim Crow era, participating in the national convention of the majority-white Future Farmers of America (FFA)—now named the National FFA Organization—in Kansas City, Missouri. At the convention, a ceremony took place that symbolized the July 1, 1965, decision to merge the NFA and FFA. But for some, as one former member told me, the “merger” was more like a “hostile takeover.” The “pageantry of the merger,” as Cecil L. Strickland, Sr. (1994, p. 44) described it, required Adolphus Pinson, the NFA’s last president, to surrender the organization’s charter to Kenneth Kennedy, the national FFA president. “I am duly authorized to transfer to you the National NFA Charter, together with the permanent record of officers of the organization,” Pinson told Kennedy. “Also, to inform you that the total membership of 50,807 students of vocational agriculture in 12 states are now active members of the Future Farmers of America” (Strickland, 1994, p. 43). The NFA charter was placed in the national FFA archives along with the minutes of the last NFA convention and important cultural artifacts of the organization, including its banner and flag. The NFA also transferred the US$20,000 in its savings account to the FFA treasury. The final nail in the coffin for the NFA occurred when Pinson took off his NFA jacket and handed it to Kennedy. In return, Kennedy presented Pinson with an FFA jacket, declaring, “The exchanging of this NFA jacket for the FFA jacket by you, the last NFA President, symbolizes the joining together all students of vocational agriculture into one great organization” (Strickland, 1994, p. 46). And with Kennedy’s final statement, the NFA vanished. . . .
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