The Color of the Land: Reclaiming African-American Land Ethic in South Carolina
Aldo Leopold’s maxim, “Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land” describes Drew Lanham’s mission to promote and strengthen the relationship between African-American rural landowners and their properties. To better connect the rapidly-diversifying U.S. population to the natural world, Drew has long felt an obligation to motivate and mentor under-served or ignored populations who have no less a stake in the conservation of our precious natural resources.
Over his 17-year career as a wildlife ecology professor at Clemson University, he has mentored over 30 graduate students, committing himself to supporting young professionals who can meet the challenges of natural resources conservation ethically, enthusiastically and with fresh perspectives. A critical aspect of Drew’s studies has focused on African-American rural property owners and how their lands might be sustainably managed to maintain family legacy and healthy ecological function. Empowering current and future generations of people to develop a land ethic that will benefit both humans and wildlife was the ultimate dream of Aldo Leopold and one that Drew hopes to make a reality.
For his Toyota TogetherGreen Conservation Fellowship, Drew contacted, educated, and provided technical support for African-American rural landowners across South Carolina, learning firsthand how a significant but underserved population of potential conservationists valued and managed their property.
In a project called “The Color of the Land”, he provided technical assistance and recorded the stories of the unique relationships people of color have to the land. Lanham also helped them to develop strategies for implementing sustainable timber and wildlife management practices. His ultimate goal was to introduce African-American landowners to sustainable means of natural resources management that would help them improve soil, water and wildlife resources on their properties and ultimately those “downstream.”
While his project helped maintain rural landscapes that were diverse ethnically and ecologically, he also aimed to define the conservation ethic and preserve the land legacy that has helped sustain generations of rural African-American landowners. Because landowners hold significant sources of sustainable wealth and power, reaching out to them compassionately and with genuine interest in their backgrounds increased their quality of life, their communities, and the wildlife that depended on rural habitats to survive.
Hear Drew explain how he planned to diversify the American Conservation Movement in South Carolina.