Finding a Home

Three decades ago, I came to Columbia Missouri to go to the University of Missouri School of Journalism. It was a time of dramatic and unsettling changes. My wife and I had an toddler son at home, with a daughter on the way. The farms around me didn’t look at all like those I was used to in central Sweden or in Minnesota. And for the first time I was spending a lot of time with farmers who were not descendents of European immigrants, but rather the descendents of slaves. It is embarrassing now to acknowledge that I had not thought about that difference before beginning my work documenting agriculture in the Mississippi Delta — but it would be a lie to deny it. I got to know several Black farm families over the years in Missouri, while creating Black Soil, a documentary photography, writing and audio project that continues almost thirty years later as part of Cultivating Justice. One of the families I began to spend a lot of time with was the Richardsons, who farmed some 500 acres just outside of New Madrid, Missouri. The middle child was Justin, at left he’s about 8 years old. At right, he’s just about to retire from the ARMY, a father and living in St. Louis, Missouri. He has since moved to the DC area, and Will and I went to interview him a few months ago about his family farm’s history — in short, all that is left of the farm is the house, with all surrounding lands sold to primarily white farmers. I’ll roll out more of the Richardson family story, as well as that of the Pullen and Peat families, in subsequent blogs. For now, just know that working on these stories was one of the great privileges of my life, and I hope that by continuing the work through Cultivating Justice we can show respect and honesty about the lives of these families and others like them.

— Torsten Kjellstrand, Eugene, Oregon March 2, 2020

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