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Law Reforms to Help Rural Black Families Recover their Century-Old Lands



Black Farmer digging up land

Rural black families can now take advantage of recent legislative provisions to recover lost farmlands. As far back 1910, rural black farmers in America held an estimated 19 million acres of farmland. Most of these lands were purchased in the course of slavery where widespread discrimination was evident. Black farmers purchased lands in large acres. They created All-black settlements and towns as a way to enjoy some form of autonomy.


Available statistics in 2018 put the total estimated agricultural land area in the US at 253.7 million acres. However, a recent Census of Agriculture indicates a landslide drop in land ownership by African Americans to about 2.5 million acres.


Heirs’ Property Law as Against Rural Black Land Ownership

Dorceta Taylor outlines the major challenges confronting rural blacks and other ethnic nationalities in a bid to own farmlands. One of the major pitfalls against landownership and retention was the Heirs’ property law. Heirs’ property is an act that only comes into effect when a property owner dies interstate (dies without leaving a will). In such cases, the law permits the land to be shared among multiple inheritors. This system allows every surviving member of the original landowner to lay a claim to the property, after his or her death. The state distributes the property to his or her offspring equally.


Most times, if any party insists on partitioning and selling, the land might become too small for farming. In the end, the entire property might be sold at a lower value by realtors with greedy intents. Hence, it created a loophole for agents to exploits the co-heirs by selling the property at an auction price. Due to unfavorable legislation, blacks as at then usually find it difficult to access government loans. It was the same problem with accessing grants because their lands had no title. When the land remains inactive for long it is usually encroached upon. Through this, the black communities have lost huge acres of land.


Law Reforms to Favor Rural Black Families

statue of liberty

One major reform is the farm bill law passed by Congress every five years. However, in 2018 the farm bill law addressed the heirs’ property provisions. With President Donald Trump giving an accent to the bill in December 2018 it gives more hope to black property owners.  A total of 10 states as well as the District of Columbia went ahead in 2018 to make provision for farmers’ protection concerning the heirs’ property. Nevada State was the first to pass the farm bill law in 2011.


Three areas of Law Reforms include;

  • The law permits co-heirs to the property an opportunity for a buyout of the shares of other co-owners first.
  • If there are no ready parties for a buyout then the court can resort to dividing the property between the co-owners. It could also consider selling the property and sharing the money among the co-owners.
  • The last option would be to sell the property in an open market sale. The value of the property would be higher compared to auctions.


Karama Neal, one co-heir of over 150 heirs with 160 acres of family property in Arkansas. She faces heirs’ property over her co-inheritance of Griffin Henry Belk’s property (her great-great-grandfather who was a former slave). Neal says, “There’s often a misunderstanding about where it is. People think it’s only a rural issue, and it’s not.”


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