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African American Land Loss The Challenge and Promise of Land Title Projects.

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Presentation on theme: "African American Land Loss The Challenge and Promise of Land Title Projects."— Presentation transcript:

1 African American Land Loss The Challenge and Promise of Land Title Projects

2 Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Community Development Project Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Community Development Project The committee was formed in 1963 – at the request of President Kennedy The committee was formed in 1963 – at the request of President Kennedy Voting Rights, Fair Housing, Employment Discrimination, Environmental Justice, Community Economic Development Voting Rights, Fair Housing, Employment Discrimination, Environmental Justice, Community Economic Development Located in Washington DC, but first office was in Jackson MS Located in Washington DC, but first office was in Jackson MS The Community Development Project The Community Development Project

3 The Community Development Project The Community Development Project The Community Development Project mobilizes the skills of transactional lawyers in the private bar to serve historically disadvantaged minority communities to promote racial, social and economic justice: The Community Development Project mobilizes the skills of transactional lawyers in the private bar to serve historically disadvantaged minority communities to promote racial, social and economic justice: 1. Brick and Mortar Development 1. Brick and Mortar Development CHDOs CHDOs Land trusts Land trusts Health Clinics Health Clinics 2. Asset Development 2. Asset Development Heir Property-Title Clearing Heir Property-Title Clearing “land ownership by multiple heirs as tenants in common” Would like to hear from groups in the Delta that are working on housing and homeownership, individual asset building, or wealth building strategies, including small business development. Welcome calls from DCA non profit members and affiliates that need transactional or business law services. Would like to hear from groups in the Delta that are working on housing and homeownership, individual asset building, or wealth building strategies, including small business development. Welcome calls from DCA non profit members and affiliates that need transactional or business law services.

4 Community Development Project We welcome requests for service from groups in the Delta that are working on housing and homeownership, individual asset building, or wealth building strategies, including small business development. Welcome calls from DCA non profit members and affiliates that need transactional or business law services. We welcome requests for service from groups in the Delta that are working on housing and homeownership, individual asset building, or wealth building strategies, including small business development. Welcome calls from DCA non profit members and affiliates that need transactional or business law services. (202) (202)

5 Why Is Heir Property A Civil Rights Issue? Status of Black Land Ownership Source: From Reconstruction to Deconstruction by Prof. Thomas W. Mitchell Univ. of Wisconsin Law School –Land Tenure Center Why Is Heir Property A Civil Rights Issue? Status of Black Land Ownership Source: From Reconstruction to Deconstruction by Prof. Thomas W. Mitchell Univ. of Wisconsin Law School –Land Tenure Center Freedmen’s bureau sells land owned by ex-confederates to freed slaves Freedmen’s bureau sells land owned by ex-confederates to freed slaves Tens of thousands of blacks own land for the first time Tens of thousands of blacks own land for the first time President Johnson’s order granting amnesty to confederates leads to the ouster of blacks from land which had been purchased President Johnson’s order granting amnesty to confederates leads to the ouster of blacks from land which had been purchased Despite this set back, between 1865 and 1915, African Americans purchased 15 million acres of land, most of it in the rural south. Despite this set back, between 1865 and 1915, African Americans purchased 15 million acres of land, most of it in the rural south. The decline of black land ownership in the 20 th Century is the story of the decline of the black farmer The decline of black land ownership in the 20 th Century is the story of the decline of the black farmer Today black farmers own less than 2 million acres Today black farmers own less than 2 million acres

6 Why is this a civil rights issue? Black Land Tenure: A System Under Stress Why is this a civil rights issue? Black Land Tenure: A System Under Stress The seeds for this century’s rapid decline of black land ownership in the south were probably planted in the 19 th century The seeds for this century’s rapid decline of black land ownership in the south were probably planted in the 19 th century Enforcement of Jim Crow, political disenfranchisement and violence from set the stage for massive outmigration to the north Enforcement of Jim Crow, political disenfranchisement and violence from set the stage for massive outmigration to the north Stable black communities in the south were fractured and traumatized by racial violence, and the lack of legal protection against violence Stable black communities in the south were fractured and traumatized by racial violence, and the lack of legal protection against violence Dramatic examples of community destabilization, criminal and civil rights violations Dramatic examples of community destabilization, criminal and civil rights violations 1866 – Black homesteaders ousted by Ex-confederates 1866 – Black homesteaders ousted by Ex-confederates  1898 – Black citizens murdered and businesses burned in Wilmington North Carolina  – Black citizens murdered and community members flee their community for safety from lynch mobs in and around south Florida  Research is needed to trace the impact of these and less well known incidents of racial violence on the orderly transfer of land from one generation of African Americans to the next

7 Other Factors Contributing to the Major Diminution of Land Ownership In the South Crop Failures Crop Failures natural disaster natural disaster boweevil infestation boweevil infestation Voluntary Transfers Voluntary Transfers Systematic discriminatory denial of farm credit Systematic discriminatory denial of farm credit Foreclosure, tax sales Foreclosure, tax sales Partition suits Partition suits

8 Dimensions of the Problem Today *African American Rural Land Wealth: The Crisis and the Opportunities”, Prof. Thomas Mitchell, Univ. of Wisconsin Law School Dimensions of the Problem Today *African American Rural Land Wealth: The Crisis and the Opportunities”, Prof. Thomas Mitchell, Univ. of Wisconsin Law School 1997 Agric. Census – 16,560 Black farm owner/operators owned 1.49 million acres of land (down from 15 million acres in 1920s) 1997 Agric. Census – 16,560 Black farm owner/operators owned 1.49 million acres of land (down from 15 million acres in 1920s) * Most black owned land in the South owned by African Americans outside of the South * Most black owned land in the South owned by African Americans outside of the South * Lack of Access to credit or access to predatory high cost loans remains a problem * Lack of Access to credit or access to predatory high cost loans remains a problem * Insecure and problematic ownership structures * Insecure and problematic ownership structures * Full extent of heirship property and title problems is not known * Full extent of heirship property and title problems is not known

9 What is Heirship Property? What is Heirship Property? The ownership of property by virtue heir status The ownership of property by virtue heir status This is the default form of ownership that is created when a property owner dies without a will This is the default form of ownership that is created when a property owner dies without a will The ownership interest is determined by statute The ownership interest is determined by statute If the estate is never probated, those ownership interests are never confirmed and title is never documented in the surviving heirs If the estate is never probated, those ownership interests are never confirmed and title is never documented in the surviving heirs This is an unstable form of ownership This is an unstable form of ownership

10 What is the relevance of this form of land ownership to the problem of African American land loss? *Heirs own as tenants in common. *Heirs own as tenants in common. *They hold an undivided interest in the entire property. *They hold an undivided interest in the entire property. *The undivided interest can be transferred but cannot be physically distinguished. *The undivided interest can be transferred but cannot be physically distinguished. *All owners are equally responsible for the stewardship of the land *All owners are equally responsible for the stewardship of the land (payment of any mortgage or taxes) (payment of any mortgage or taxes) * Living on the land or paying all of the taxes does not vest any greater rests in the tenant * Living on the land or paying all of the taxes does not vest any greater rests in the tenant *Absent owners have the same rights as active owners and owners in possession *Absent owners have the same rights as active owners and owners in possession * Heir ownership becomes fractionated into smaller and smaller interests as the size of the heirship group expands * Heir ownership becomes fractionated into smaller and smaller interests as the size of the heirship group expands *Any owner has the right to partition the court to partition their interest and cash out *Any owner has the right to partition the court to partition their interest and cash out

11 Ownership is fractionated as size of family grows Ownership is fractionated as size of family grows Rebecca d Vivian 1/3 ( ) Joyce 1/9 In Possessn Lindsay 1/9 Ethel 1/ Arthur 1/3 James 1/ present Out Out of state

12 Problems with Heir Property Ownership Problems with Heir Property Ownership As time passes, breaks or legal defects in the chain of title is common As time passes, breaks or legal defects in the chain of title is common Very difficult to borrow against the property Very difficult to borrow against the property It is dead capital for the family group, the equity is trapped It is dead capital for the family group, the equity is trapped Landowners lack access to the benefits of landownership Landowners lack access to the benefits of landownership This problem is widespread in the south This problem is widespread in the south Failure to communicate often leads to involuntary loss through foreclosure, tax sale or partition Failure to communicate often leads to involuntary loss through foreclosure, tax sale or partition

13 Solutions Use a will Use a will Get the estate probated and heirship interest documented Get the estate probated and heirship interest documented Set up a family dialogue – use family reunions to have a communication about the status of family land Set up a family dialogue – use family reunions to have a communication about the status of family land Set up a family tree Set up a family tree Obtain legal services to clear and confirm title in the family group Obtain legal services to clear and confirm title in the family group Create a written Tenants In Common agreement Create a written Tenants In Common agreement Lawyers Committee, DLA Piper Lawyers Committee, DLA Piper Mississippi Center for Justice: Mississippi Center for Justice: 100 families received assistance to obtain clear title and draw down grants to rehab storm damaged dwellings, team moving to the Delta Lawyers Committee assisting families through the Heirs Property Retention Coalition in North Carolina Lawyers Committee assisting families through the Heirs Property Retention Coalition in North Carolina Lawyers Committee investigating title problems on Eastern Shore of Maryland Lawyers Committee investigating title problems on Eastern Shore of Maryland

14 Challenges Land records in rural area incomplete not consistently indexed Land records in rural area incomplete not consistently indexed Title services to document land holdings can be expensive Title services to document land holdings can be expensive Family group dynamics can be difficult to manage Family group dynamics can be difficult to manage Partition laws vary from state to state Partition laws vary from state to state

15 Opportunities Preserving family asset and history Preserving family asset and history Building equity Building equity Residential Residential Farming Farming Tourism Tourism Cultural space Cultural space Open space for recreational use Open space for recreational use Removing barriers to community economic development Removing barriers to community economic development Addressing blighted and vacant properties Addressing blighted and vacant properties

16 Important Partners and Resources Mississippi Center for Justice Mississippi Center for Justice Land Tenure Center, Univ of Wisconsin Law School Land Tenure Center, Univ of Wisconsin Law School Black Family Land Trust Black Family Land Trust Black Land Loss Prevention Project Black Land Loss Prevention Project Southern Federation of Cooperatives Southern Federation of Cooperatives Alabama Appleseed Center Alabama Appleseed Center Center for Heir Property Preservation Center for Heir Property Preservation Heirs Property Retention Coalition Heirs Property Retention Coalition


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