Montgomery, AL, March 28, 2023 – In conjunction with the presentation of Bernard Williams’ Black Tractor Project, 2020, in the John and Joyce Caddell Sculpture Garden, the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) is honored to bring together several voices that reveal the realities and hardships Black farmers have faced over the last 100 years.
On Friday, April 7, the MMFA will host a discussion and reception at the Museum that delves into the experiences of Black farmers in Alabama. We invite the public to join us from 4 to 5:30 PM to meet and hear from the artist Bernard Williams and scholar Elijah Gaddis. Two individuals intimately involved in the farming industry—John Williams and Albert “Peter” Datcher—will also share their personal farming experiences in Alabama and their participation in the 1999 class-action lawsuit Pigford v. Glickman.
At the center of Bernard Williams’ work and the discussion is the historic class-action lawsuit Pigford
v. Glickman, which proved the United States Department of Agriculture had systematically deprived African-American farmers of loans and other government assistance and resulted in a $1.25 billion settlement. Colloquially known as the Black farmers’ settlement, the funds were distributed among approximately 13,000 African-American families with proven connections to farmers who were summarily dispossessed of land and farming opportunities from 1981–1996. Although it is not widely known, the Black farmers' settlement is the largest civil rights settlement in the United States.
MMFA Curator Jennifer Jankauskas says, “Williams’ Black Tractor Project is a powerful symbol and
monument to an important Civil Rights milestone, demonstrating both the recognition of a painful history and the attempt to correct it through reparations. The opportunity to meet with the artist and hear from those who participated in Pigford v. Glickman provides insights into the difficulties faced by many of the very people we rely on for our sustenance.”
ABOUT THE BLACK TRACTOR PROJECT
In 2016, artist Bernard Williams inherited a small amount of money from an uncle in Montgomery, Alabama. A bittersweet form of reparations, the sum was one part of the settlement paid to Black farmers as a result of the Pigford v. Glickman class-action lawsuit. After contemplating how to memorialize this history, Williams created the Black Tractor in 2020 as a monument. It honors a particular history of farmers who have experienced dispossession at the hands of the United States Department of Agriculture and its subsidiaries while also signifying the broader struggle between America’s marginalized populations and their government, particularly in the fraught timelines of American labor and agricultural history. Williams combines this monument with graphic forms that refer more obliquely to the South, civil rights, and history.
ABOUT THE PROGRAM PARTICIPANTS
Artist Bernard Williams is a native of Chicago, Illinois. He holds a BFA degree from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Northwestern University in Evanston. He also studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine, in 1987.
Williams has taught art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago since 1991.
Albert “Peter” Datcher
Albert “Peter” Datcher is a farmer and family historian in the Cresswell community outside Harpersville, AL. There, his family has farmed the same land for almost 200 years. His collection of family records, letters, photographs, and other materials are held at the Alabama Department of Archives and History and are one of the most complete accounts of an African American farming family in Alabama. Datcher was the first Black farmer since Reconstruction to have the honor of speaking to Congress twice in the 1970s as part of the American Agricultural Movement.
Elijah Gaddis is an Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies at Auburn University. His research and teaching interests are in African American material culture and landscape in the American South. Dr. Gaddis's first book Gruesome Looking Objects: A New History of Lynching and Everyday Things, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2022.
John Williams was born in 1955 in Hope Hull, Alabama, and resides in Burkville, AL, a short distance from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. Williams retired from the US Army Corps of Engineers in 2021 after 42 years of service in the natural resources area, operating as a Park Ranger. John is a relative of the artist and the son of Sellers Williams, who worked the land as a sharecropper in Hope Hull, AL, in the 1950s and Burkville, AL, until he died in 1973.
SUPPORT AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The MMFA is grateful to Bernard Williams and Elijah Gaddis for their support of this program.
Annual support for programs is made possible by the following sponsors and grantors. Lead sponsors and grantors Alabama State Council on the Arts, Central Alabama Community Foundation, Ms.
Caroline J. Crook, The Daniel Foundation of Alabama, The Ford Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Barrie H. Harmon III, Lamar, Medical Properties Trust, Inc., MGMWERX, Poarch Band of Creek Indians, and Regions Bank with additional support from sponsors Mr. John A. Caddell, Central Alabama Community Foundation, Drs. Gerri and Struart Hendon, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Runkle, and Cathy Caddell and Charlie Warnke, and co-sponsors Dr. and Mrs. Robert A. Avery, Dr. and Mrs. Sanders M. Benkwith, Goodwyn Mills and Cawood, Inc., and Hodges Warehouse + Logistics.
ABOUT THE MMFA
The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts was founded in 1930 by a group of local artists as a place for both exhibiting art and a space for art education. The founders’ original intentions—to exhibit and teach—continue to inspire and inform every action and activity at the Museum. Since 1988, the MMFA has shared the 175-acre Blount Cultural Park with partners across the lake at the celebrated Alabama Shakespeare Festival.
Today’s MMFA visitors stroll through art-studded grounds and permanent collection galleries. They see compelling changing exhibitions and learn about art by playing in the interactive gallery, ArtWorks; making art in the bustling studios, and participating in other engaging events and programs. In addition, MMFA visitors can relax and recharge in the serenity of the Museum’s stunning three-acre John and Joyce Caddell Sculpture Garden.
While the Museum’s collection is still home to the art of many of the regional artists who first established it, it has become known for its strengths in American art and Old Master prints. Recent important acquisitions of art made by African American and Asian American artists and works inspired by images and themes related to the experiences of these groups represent the breadth and depth of the lives and concerns of those who call Montgomery and the River Region home. Through the
exhibition of these works and the programs and events that help connect our communities with them, the MMFA has become recognized as a leading arts and cultural resource here in the state and the Southeastern region.
The MMFA is a department of the City of Montgomery and is supported by funds from the City of Montgomery, with additional funds from the Montgomery County Commission and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts Association. Programs are made possible, in part, by grants from the Alabama State Council on the Arts.