Rooted: The American Legacy of Land Theft and the Modern Movement for Black Land Ownership

Written by Brea Baker

A powerful history of the impact of land theft and violent displacement on Black communities in the U.S., arguing that justice and reparations will stem from the literal roots—by an acclaimed writer, political strategist, and national organizer

It is impossible to understand the twenty-first-century racial wealth gap without first unpacking the historic attacks on Indigenous and Black land ownership. From the moment that colonizers set foot on Virginian soil, a centuries-long war was waged, and long after those initial colonial pursuits, an existential dilemma remained: Who owns what on stolen land? Who owns what with stolen labor? To answer these questions, we must be willing to face one of this nation’s first sins: stealing and hoarding the land.

Recent research suggests that between 1910 and 1997, Black Americans lost about 90% of their farmland. Now, less than 1% of rural land in the U.S. is owned by Black people despite the centuries of labor, enslaved or free, that cultivated those very same lands. Land theft has widened the racial wealth gap, privatized natural resources, and created a permanent barrier to land that should be a birthright for Black and Indigenous communities. Rooted traces the experiences of Brea’s own family’s history of having land violently taken from them, in Kentucky and North Carolina, to explore historic attacks on Black land ownership and understand the persistent racial wealth gap. Ultimately, her grandfather’s decades spent purchasing small parcels of land back resulted in the “Baker Acres”—a haven for the family, and a place where they are surrounded by love, sustained by the land, and wholly free.

Beyond examining the effects of the violence of centuries past, Rooted is a testament to the deep resilience of Black farmers who envisioned an America with them at the center: able to feed, house, and tend to their communities. By bearing witness to their commitment to freedom and reciprocal care for the land—even as it came at great personal cost—we can chart a path forward.