Each episode will go deep on a big story you’ll definitely want to hear more about. We’ll share with you our best investigations (think private prisons, electoral skullduggery, Dark Money, and Trump's Russia connections), and informative interviews with our reporters and newsmakers. We're hoping to make your week more informed with the stories that really matter, told by us, the folks you trust for smart, fearless reporting.
“Queen Sugar” Author Natalie Baszile: Black Farmers Can Help Save the Planet
Natalie Baszile knew she was onto something when she got the call from Oprah’s people. A novelist and food justice activist, Baszile had been working for years on a semi-autobiographical novel about a Los Angeles-based Black woman who is unexpectedly faced with reviving an inherited family farm in Louisiana. The book became “Queen Sugar,” was published in 2014 and, with Oprah’s backing, it debuted as a television series on OWN in 2016. It was executive produced by Oprah Winfrey herself and directed by Ava DuVernay. American audiences were getting an intimate glimpse into how reverse migration was reshaping Black life in America.
Now, in a new anthology, Baszile is broadening her scope. In We Are Each Other’s Harvest, Baszile offers up a carefully curated collection of essays and interviews that get to the heart of why Black people’s connection to the land matters. Mother Jones food and agriculture correspondent Tom Philpott recently published an investigation called “Black Land Matters,” which explores how access to land has exacerbated the racial wealth gap in America. The story also takes a look at a younger generation of Black people who have begun to reclaim farming and the land on which their ancestors once toiled.
In this discussion, host Jamilah King talks with Baszile about how this new generation of Black farmers is actually tapping into wisdom that’s much older than they might have imagined.
This is a follow-up conversation to last week's episode, which took a deep look at how Black farmers are beginning a movement to wrestle with history and reclaim their agricultural heritage. Check it out in our feed.
The Black Farmer Movement Battling History to Return to the Land
Agriculture was once a major source of wealth among the Black middle class in America. But over the course of a century, Black-owned farmland, and the corresponding wealth, has diminished almost to the point of near extinction; only 1.7 percent of farms were owned by Black farmers in 2017. The story of how that happened–from sharecropping, to anti-Black terrorism, to exclusionary USDA loans–is the focus of this episode on the Mother Jones Podcast.
Tom Philpott, Mother Jones’ food and agriculture correspondent, joins Jamilah King on the show to talk about the racist history of farming and a new movement to reclaim Black farmland.
You’ll hear from Tahz Walker, who helps run Tierra Negra farm, which sits on land that was once part of a huge and notorious plantation in North Carolina called Stagville. Today, descendants of people who were enslaved at Stagville own shares in Tierra Negra and harvest food from that land. Leah Penniman is another farmer in the movement. She is the author of Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land, and the co-founder and managing director of a Soul Fire Farm, a cooperative farm she established in upstate New York that doubles as a training ground for farmers of color.
The campaign to reclaim Black farmland has received some political backing. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Justice for Black Farmers Act in 2020, a bill that would attempt to reverse the discriminatory practices of the USDA by buying up farmland on the open market and giving it to Black farmers. The bill has received backing from high-profile on the left, including Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), though it is unlikely to get the votes it would need to override the filibuster and pass.
On the episode, you’ll also hear from Dania Francis, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a researcher with the Land Loss and Reparations Project. When asked how about economic tactics for redressing the lost land and the current wealth gap, Francis suggests: “A direct way to address a wealth gap is to provide Black families with wealth.”
The Oscar-Nominated Writers of Judas and the Black Messiah Make History
Judas and the Black Messiah, a ground-breaking film about the life of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, has been hailed as one of the best films of the year. The film is up for five Oscars, including Best Picture. It’s a historic haul for a movie made by an all-Black team of producers.
It’s also a notable and somewhat unexpected achievement for Keith and Kenny Lucas, who, along with director Shaka King and co-writer Will Berson, wrote the semi-biopic’s screenplay. The Hollywood honor for the 35-year-old identical twins known as the Lucas Brothers arrives after they built careers in comedy, including standup; appearances in 22 Jump Street and Arrested Development; and starring roles in the series Friends of the People and Lucas Bros. Moving Co.
On today’s bonus episode, Mother Jones reporter Ali Breland caught up with the brothers to chat about comedy, philosophy, and what it was like to make a movie about a revolutionary socialist who was committed to Black freedom.
An edited transcript of the interview can be found on motherjones.com
Derek Chauvin Is Guilty. The Fight for Real Justice Is Far From Over.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the jury in the trial of Derek Chauvin delivered its verdict: guilty on all three counts in the killing of George Floyd. The 12 jurors—six of whom are white, four Black, and two multiracial—heard three weeks of testimony and deliberated for about 10 hours. Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
The verdict comes just less than a year since Chauvin forcibly kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, ultimately suffocating and killing him. Floyd was 46 years old. The video was shared widely and sparked massive waves of protests last summer under the banner “Black Lives Matter”—first in Minneapolis and then across the United States, people took to the streets to demonstrate against police violence and demand racial justice. Chauvin was fired and arrested after killing Floyd. He had worked for the Minneapolis Police Department since 2001, during which time he received at least 17 complaints and had a record of fatal use-of-force.
Nathalie, who closely followed the trial over the past few weeks, joined Mother Jones Podcast host Jamilah King just after the verdict came in. "I was really surprised by how quickly the verdict came back," said Nathalie. "It feels like a huge moment." In her analysis of this important moment, Nathalie touched on the barely latent racism in the prosecutor’s argument, the issues with a televised trial, and how this verdict fits into the long fight for racial justice in America.”A lot of people are eager to hold this guilty verdict up as this big symbol of change,” says Nathalie on the podcast. “But after so many viral police shootings, one guilty verdict doesn’t satisfy that appetite for actual change.”
How America's Super-Rich Tax Evaders Are Hurting Everyone
Money. You’re probably thinking a lot about it these days. From a global pandemic that’s tanked the global economy, to President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure bill, to workers once again trying (and failing) to unionize at Amazon, who gets what and how is the recurring theme of so many important social and political debates right now.
Michael Mechanic is a long-time Senior Editor at Mother Jones. His compelling new book is called Jackpot: How the Super-Rich Really Live—and How Their Wealth Harms Us All. From Capitol Hill to family office suites to wine cellar bunkers, this is an eye-opening romp through the lives of the richest people in America–the so-called One Percenter and a.comprehensive look at the structures behind wealth inequality. Not to mention the psychological effects of wealth on the very people who have the most of it. "Higher wealth is associated with more entitlement and narcissism, less compassion," explains Mechanic on the podcast. "People who are wealthier tend to be less socially attuned to those around them."
In this conversation with Jamilah King, Mechanic discusses the tax code, the ways that race and gender have played into the accumulation of generational wealth, the tension between the promise of the American dream and the stark reality of the present-day wealth gap. And that specifically American landscape does not have much allure for others. "When people visualize how bad the wealth gap is in America,” Mechanic notes, “they say, I don't want to live there."
The Hidden Influence of Lady Bird Johnson
Lady Bird Johnson always fit the mold of a certain old-fashioned, stereotypical presidential wife: self-effacing, devoted to her generally unfaithful domineering husband, not particularly chic, and, being a traditional first lady one who needed a public cause, and found hers it in planting lots of flowers near highways. They called it at the time, with just a hint of disparagement, "beautification." Nowhere in the hundreds of thousands of pages written by presidential historians on the 36th president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, has there been presented much evidence to the contrary.
But in her new book, Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight, Julia Sweig has radically changed the narrative. “She doesn’t just have a front seat at history,” says Sweig on the podcast. “She was shaping it.”
Mother Jones's DC Editorial Operations Director Marianne Szegedy-Maszak sat down with Sweig to talk to her about Lady Bird Johnson, writing history, and how the dominance of a certain narrative about male power informed the way we have understood the Johnson presidency. Especially striking is how many of the same issues that are current today—income inequality, the fight for racial justice, police shootings, environmental despoliation, and environmental justice—were priorities for the Johnson administration. Nearly all of them eclipsed by the Vietnam War.
This episode includes clips from In Plain Sight: Lady Bird Johnson, a podcast hosted by Sweig and produced by ABC News/Best Case Studios.