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Courtney Brown, OSU agricultural education doctoral student, created a course based on her interest in African American experiences in agriculture. (Photo by Haven Davis)

Passion for History in Agriculture

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Media Contact: Samantha Siler | Communications and Marketing Manager | 405-744-2977 | samantha.siler@okstate.edu

An interest in her history sparked a passion in one agricultural education doctoral student for understanding the development and changes for African Americans in agriculture into a new one-credit course.

In Spring 2020, Courtney Brown was assigned to teach a weekend course to help students gain information about George Washington Carver.

The course would have taken students to Diamond, Missouri, to visit the birth place of this famous African American. However, the learning experience was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brown, along with Rob Terry, agricultural education, communications and leadership department head, came together to create the course and then redesigned it for Fall 2020.

“Courtney deserves tons of credit for taking that situation and coming up with an alternative that turned out to be tremendous,” Terry said.

“She is people-oriented and really shared her passion for advocating for diversity in agriculture,” Terry said.

Brown said she wanted to create a space where students had the opportunity to discuss things they lacked information on and to feel comfortable doing so.

The course topic has a deep historical narrative, Brown said, and she needed a creative way to discuss it for six hours on a Friday night. Brown and 16 guest speakers described the experiences and challenges of African Americans and how they approach those situations, she said.

Brown organized the class to inform students about the facts and history of African Americans in agriculture. Students also heard real-life experiences and opinions from multiple African American professionals within the industry.

“I really appreciate her integration of variety and methods to get students engaged with guest speakers and assignments,” Terry said.

Brown explained a variety of perspectives to expand on the things that happened to African Americans throughout history and the strength those individuals developed from those events, she added.

Agricultural education freshman Erick Clements took the course and thought the content was well organized by learning historical background one day and having interviews with discussions the next.

“I wanted the angle of the class to focus on the resiliency of Black people in agriculture,” Brown said.

Brown incorporated content to show the African American perspective of agriculture as well as the economic impacts of American slavery. She expanded on what happened to African Americans throughout history and the strength developed from them, she said. Topics also included leaders who emerged from the diversity like George Washington Carver, Fannie Lou Hamer and Booker T. Washington, she added.

Brown focused on showing students the historic and current facts of African American culture and its relevance to agriculture, she said.

“I knew it was going to be challenging to talk about race and agriculture, especially when it relates back to slavery,” Brown said.

During the course, Brown talked about the Reconstructive Era and how newly freed slaves were met with excitement and uncertainty when deciding what to do or where to go. Most of the freed slaves did not know what it was like to be a free person and had to learn how to live that life, she said.

Another topic of the course was the discussion of what 1890 land-grant institutions have contributed to the agricultural industry.

With OSU being a land-grant university, many students were aware of the Land-Grant College Act of 1862, or first Morrill Act, but not the second Morrill Act in 1890, Brown said.

The second Morrill Act helped establish Black colleges and universities to focus on agriculture and mechanical arts. The act was designed to also encourage higher quality agricultural research and education programs and to produce graduates in these areas, Brown said.

As a result, the historically Black colleges and universities helped build African American communities by developing educators and future leaders, Brown said.

Discussion of 1890 land-grant institutions naturally led to talk of the New Farmers of America as well
as its merger in 1965 with the Future Farmers of America, now known as the National FFA Organization.

“My favorite topic was probably the NFA,” Clements said. “I had no idea it existed until that class.”

The merger between the NFA and FFA felt like NFA was absorbed into FFA in the eyes of African American students and teachers, Brown said.

Students who went from NFA to FFA lost the ability to run for national offices and other opportunities they originally had, Brown added, and many of the African American instructors who taught in the NFA lost their jobs after the merger.

The OSU students in Brown’s course did not realize the gravity of what had happened and what was lost in the African American community because of the merger, Brown said.

The entire course was interesting, Clements said, and learning about different cultures and forgotten history was beneficial.

This course was started as an opportunity for students to learn about one man within the agricultural industry, but it evolved into something much more when things did not go as planned, Brown said.


Story by Haven Davis, Cowboy Journal staff

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