If you've got a hankering for something sour, cold, and crunchy, make your way down to Jackson, Mississippi on Saturday, June 10, for the Mississippi Pickle Fest. It's being held at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum. Admission is a mere 12 dollars, and you can feast on all of the fermented delights your heart desires. Their festival website explains:
The Mississippi Pickle Fest is a refreshing taste of all things fermented. This fun-filled festival is a day of music, games, contests, vendors, and so much more. We have partnered with local individuals and restaurants to provide fun pickle-themed foods and drinks. There is something for everyone at this fun-filled family event!
While you're there, check out the rest of the museum's 44 exhibits, which sprawl across a 39-acre site and include an exhibit barn, nature trail, children's barnyard, herb garden, rose garden, general store, the National Agricultural Aviation Museum, and the Heritage Center Gallery, which features an exhibit focusing on "500 years of Mississippi's agricultural history, from the early contributions to agriculture of the Choctaw population, to turn of the century forest conservation, to modern catfish farming." The museum's vast agriculture garden is home to the Victory Garden, which contains 17 raised beds with rotating seasonal crops, a blueberry patch, muscadine arbor, potato tuber viewer, and worm dig compost station. The museum hosts school groups and other visitors interested in learning about soil fertility, conservation tillage, crop rotation, pollination, and historic and modern methods of farming.
I haven't been to the museum, and while they mention "slavery" briefly on their website, I'm not sure how thoroughly they cover how fundamental the institution of slavery and the stolen labor of enslaved people were to agriculture in Mississippi. My hunch is that they do about the same job as most museums, which is to say, not great. To remedy this failure, some newer museums have come on the scene that are definitely worth checking out: The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, in Montgomery, Alabama; the International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina; and the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana.
This is not a story about TIAA—at least not primarily. The company's newfound dominance in the region is merely the topsoil covering a history of loss and legally sanctioned theft in which TIAA played no part. But TIAA's position is instrumental in understanding both how the crimes of Jim Crow have been laundered by time and how the legacy of ill-gotten gains has become a structural part of American life. The land was wrested first from Native Americans, by force. It was then cleared, watered, and made productive for intensive agriculture by the labor of enslaved Africans, who after Emancipation would come to own a portion of it. Later, through a variety of means—sometimes legal, often coercive, in many cases legal and coercive, occasionally violent—farmland owned by black people came into the hands of white people. It was aggregated into larger holdings, then aggregated again, eventually attracting the interest of Wall Street.
Owners of small farms everywhere, black and white alike, have long been buffeted by larger economic forces. But what happened to black landowners in the South, and particularly in the Delta, is distinct, and was propelled not only by economic change but also by white racism and local white power. A war waged by deed of title has dispossessed 98 percent of black agricultural landowners in America. They have lost 12 million acres over the past century. But even that statement falsely consigns the losses to long-ago history. In fact, the losses mostly occurred within living memory, from the 1950s onward. Today, except for a handful of farmers like the Scotts who have been able to keep or get back some land, black people in this most productive corner of the Deep South own almost nothing of the bounty under their feet.