'The Last Stand': New children's book by Savannah author honors Black farmers

Antwan Eady is releasing his second book, The Last Stand, which highlights and honors Black farmers.
Antwan Eady is releasing his second book, The Last Stand, which highlights and honors Black farmers.

Antwan Eady fondly remembers growing up buying sugarcane from the fruit man for $1 in Garnett, South Carolina, where he was born. Garnett was a self-sustaining, farming community — everyone had their own special skill. The fruit man sold watermelon and sugarcane; his cousin grew, harvested and sold corn and peanuts. Someone cultivated sweet potatoes, and another person raised chickens so everyone could have fresh eggs.

"We had so many different things throughout our community, because the nearest Walmart was an hour away, and the nearest grocery store was like 10 miles from us," Eady said. "So, we didn't have things that were readily available for us. We had to take it upon ourselves to make sure that we can look out for each other."

This upbringing was part of the inspiration for his upcoming and second children's book, "The Last Stand," slated for release by Penguin Random House on Jan. 30. "The Last Stand" is a story about a grandfather and a grandson who have the last stand at the farmers' market, in a community that needs them. The book features illustrations by Jarett and Jerome Pumphrey, two brothers from Texas who also have ties to farming.

"It's a story that highlights farmers, in particular, Black farmers, but it's also a story about community," Eady said. "And it's a story about harvesting, when they harvest, they produce, but they also harvest love, in a community that, like so many communities across the U.S. and throughout the world, suffers from food apartheid, where we rely heavily on our farmers for fresh produce."

The book, in part, is an ode to the farmers of his community, like the fruit man that sold sugarcane to him for $1 because he knew Eady's parents. It's also a eulogy, he said.

Savannah author writes first book, influenced by Black writer at Savannah Book Festival

Antwan Eady is releasing his second book, The Last Stand, which honors and highlights Black farmers
Antwan Eady is releasing his second book, The Last Stand, which honors and highlights Black farmers

"Oftentimes now, especially younger generations, we don't go into farming for a variety of reasons, and I wanted to tell his story in particular to let young dreamers know that you can aspire to be a farmer," Eady said. "We need our farmers."

Eady had the idea to write this story before the pandemic but became more intentional about writing it during the height of the lockdown when he saw just how much farmers were needed. When there were food shortages, the whole country relied heavily on growers and producers, and they definitely came through, he said.

Around 1% of farmers in America identify as Black now, according to the USDA, which represents only about 45,000 people, a significant drop from the one million Black farmers who fed the nation in the 1920s. This is mainly due to systemic racism, biased government policy and inequitable social and business practices. Black farmers have filed several class action lawsuits against the USDA, including the 1999 case Pigford v. Glickman, which alleged that the agency discriminated against Black farmers and caused them to lose their land and farms to foreclosure.

"A lot of farmers had to stop farming," Eady said. "And farming was our generational wealth, farming that land, and having land ownership was one of the ways we could continue to support our families. In "The Last Stand," there are reasons why 'Papa' in the book is the last stand. Other farmers used to be there, but for different reasons, including USDA discrimination, they aren't farming anymore."

Eady said he wanted young Black dreamers to know this: land is land.

"Land didn't necessarily do anything wrong to us," Eady said. "But there's a lot that happened to us on this land. And I want to remind Black, young dreamers and readers that there's beauty on this land, the history of which is complex and complicated. We can reckon with that truth, and still acknowledge that moving forward, and have a healthier relationship with land today."

If You Go >>

What: Antwan Eady's "The Last Stand" Book Launch with special guest Jery B. Taylor, master sweetgrass basket weaver. Taylor will do a 30-minute demonstration on how to create sweetgrass baskets like the ones used by the grandfather and grandson in "The Last Stand." Eady said it's a way to honor his mother's Gullah Geechee heritage.

When: 4 p.m., Jan. 27, with author signing to follow

Where: E. Shaver Starland, 1921 Bull St.

Info: eshaverbooks.com/event/last-stand-book-launch

If you can't make the Savannah launch, Eady will be at The Storybook Shoppe in Bluffton, South Carolina at 6 p.m., Jan. 31, along with performances by Aunt Pearlie Sue and the Gullah Kinfolk.

Destini Ambus is the general assignment reporter for Chatham County municipalities for the Savannah Morning News. You can reach her at dambus@gannett.com

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Savannah children's book author honors Black farmers in 'The Last Stand'