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Van Buren’s Bill Lawson Jr. celebrated for commitment to Midwest ag

Bill Lawson Jr.’s family started farming in Cass County in 1853. Today, he tends 300 acres of corn and soybeans in both Cass and Van Buren. Image credit: Image credit: Bri Grunden, Michigan Farm Bureau
Date Posted: August 30, 2022

BLOOMINGDALE — Bill Lawson Jr. runs one of the oldest Black-owned farms in Michigan.

He “deserves to be celebrated,” said Anna-Lisa Cox, Ph.D., author of "The Bone and Sinew of the Land," which details African-American pioneers of the Midwest.

And so celebrated he was Aug. 29 at the Van Buren County Farm Bureau’s 2022 annual meeting in Bloomingdale, where Farm Bureau members, legislators and industry leaders applauded Lawson’s commitment to Michigan agriculture.

His family and land have a very important history,” said Cox, a historian who interviewed Lawson in 2019 as part of an oral history project through the Library of Congress Folklife Center.

This year the Library of Congress recognized Lawson as a multi-generational African-descended farmer of the Midwest.

“Before the Civil War, Michigan was home to 64 African American farming settlements, and all but eight counties in Michigan (including the U.P.) were home to African Americans,” Cox said.

“The tragedy is that racist policies by the department of agriculture and local violence meant that many of those farmers lost their land. Mr. Lawson has every right to be celebrated as a survivor.”

Lawson’s family started farming in Cass County in 1853. Today, he tends 300 acres of corn and soybeans in both Cass and Van Buren.

To get here, though, his family had to overcome slavery, prejudiced loan practices, and “multiple scars,” Lawson said.

“I'm the product of 40 grandchildren, great grandchildren, and I was the only one who became a farmer,” Lawson said. “I could see the hardships they dealt with.”

Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski gave Lawson a plaque to honor his commitment to Michigan agriculture.

It is my honor, on behalf of the Michigan Farm Bureau as well as the entire Farm Bureau organization and agricultural industry, to recognize you and celebrate the amazing achievements of your family, your farm and your heritage and all that you have contributed to feeding the people of this county, nation and world for over 160 years,” Bednarski said.

Lawson and Cox will be presenting Sept. 17 at the annual Michigan Freedom Trail Commission symposium in Lansing.

“He will be discussing two of his ancestors who were freedom seekers to Michigan, and I will be talking about the role of African American farmers on the Underground Railroad,” Cox said.

You can find a link to the program here or register at