Black Landowners Beware: A Proposal for Statutory Reform


Black people have been losing their land at an alarming rate and may soon become an entirely landless people. Black ownership of land has declined from a peak of 15 million acres in 1910 to 5.5 million today, reflecting the disappearance of one of the most significant means of producing wealth available to black people. Although this land loss is associated with larger trends in the American economy which have spelled the demise of the small farmer generally, the historic oppression of black people plays a special and critical part in the decrease of black land ownership.

Many ways to push poor people from the land are legally permissible. The loss of black-owned land is partly a function of a formidable obstacle course of tax, civil procedure, inheritance, and real estate laws which must be overcome if a black person is to retain his or her land. Each of these laws accounts for the substantial acceleration in the shift in land ownership from blacks to whites. The rural black, marginally literate at best, often signs away rights which he does not understand or which he does not know he has. Illiteracy and racism thus work hand-in-hand to deprive many barely self-sufficient people of their land, forcing them into urban ghettos and onto welfare rolls. Despite these obstacles, however, some black landowners have begun to fight back, trying to retrieve the land that has been taken from them.

This Article will survey the laws used to remove blacks from their land, such as partition sales, tax and debt foreclosure, adverse possession, and eminent domain, and suggest reformation of these laws to stop the attrition of black land ownership.

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