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Institute for Urban Research

Preserving Black-Owned Land: Why New Policies Are Needed

Needed Nonprofit Quarterly – July 15, 2019 (New Yorker)

Ray Winbush, director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University in Baltimore, informs Presser that most lynchings of Black men that occurred between 1890 and 1920 took place “because whites wanted their land.” An Associated Press (AP) study in 2000 and 2001 uncovered 57 separate “violent land takings” out of 107 land takings—the other 50 involving “trickery and legal manipulations.”

SharecroppersThe AP study looked at the early twentieth century, but legal trickery remains prominent today. Many Black landowners who died didn’t leave wills, with the result that often the land is now held in common as heirs’ property, which makes maintaining title challenging.

The practice of heirs’ property, Presser explains, “began during Reconstruction…and it continued through the Jim Crow era, when Black communities were suspicious of white Southern courts.” The USDA contends that heirs’ property “is the leading cause of Black involuntary land loss,” citing census data suggesting that 80 percent of land owned by Black households lost since 1910 has been lost through this mechanism. Read full article here.