Some languages help us communicate, while other languages help us make things run smoothly. Computer languages and legal language are examples of the latter. To understand computer languages, one studies computer science, and to understand legal language, one studies the law and policies active in the state of residence. But not all of us have the opportunity to study the crucial legal language that governs much of our existence, and the consequences of that unequal knowledge can be devastating.
Lynching once occurred physically, but now happens financially, through the court system all across the South, and make no mistake, it is just as murderous, and just as racist:
“…42% of the cases involved black families, despite the fact that only 6% of Carteret’s population is black. Heirs not only regularly lose their land; they are also required to pay the legal fees of those who bring the partition cases. In 2008, Janice Dyer, a research associate at Auburn University, published a study of these actions in Macon County, Alabama. She told me that the lack of secure ownership locks black families out of the wealth in their property. ”
That is, land that is owned by their families.
Historically separate and highly unequal educational systems have also contributed to this system:
“A former state politician named Thomas Limehouse, who owned a luxury hotel nearby, bought Reed’s property at a tax sale for $2,000, about an eighth of its value. Reed had a year to redeem her property, but, when she tried to pay her debt, officials told her that she couldn’t get the land back, because she wasn’t officially listed as her grandmother’s heir; she’d have to go through probate court. Here she faced another obstacle: heirs in South Carolina have 10 years to probate an estate after the death of the owner, and” you can only do that if you know how to probate an estate, which you can only do if you know what it means to probate an estate.
Like my 2xs Great Grandfather Wayne Anthony Manzilla, many Black men were killed “between 1890 and 1920 because whites wanted their land.”
The problem with land law is that it is often “co-opted by big business. One lawyer said that people saw it as a scheme ‘whereby rich men could seize the lands of the poor.’ Even lawyer Nelson Taylor acknowledged that it was abused… his own grandfather had lost a 50-acre plot to (the) Torrens (law). ‘First time he knew anything about it was when somebody told him that he didn’t own it anymore,’ Taylor said. ‘That was happening more often than it ever should have.’ ”
And it should never happen.
“The leading cause of Black involuntary land loss,’ heirs’ property is estimated to make up more than a third of Southern black-owned land — 3.5 million acres, worth more than $28 billion. These landowners are vulnerable to laws and loopholes that allow speculators and developers to acquire their property. Black families watch as their land is auctioned on courthouse steps or forced into a sale against their will.”
So, what can we do about this? Well, several things. To help stop this injustice, at least 4 Action Items spring to mind:
1.) Please consider giving your time, your cash, or your attention by sharing via your social and personal or business networks to The Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation, in South Carolina, and:
2.) Please consider reading and sharing publications by ProPublica, a non-profit that spreads the word on these matters together with potential solutions, and
3.) Please read, review, and share Dr. Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, because “42% of the cases involved black families, despite the fact that only 6% of Carteret’s population is black.” so, it really is about race.
4.) OR: Simply search for the term “Statute of Limitations” on Google, or your favorite search engine, to see how states like SC prevent heirs like Ms. Reed from probating their property. If you have the energy, please share your findings with someone, over FaceBook, Twitter, or the phone.
Please share your ideas for increasing Legal and Financial Literacy and opportunity for ALL of us!
This post is dedicated to my Great Great grandparents Wayne Anthony, murdered for succeeding, and his wife Maude Eleanor West Manzilla, who never gave up her legal suit to clear his name of the suicide charge by the life insurance company, and worked valiantly to keep her family together. Their descendants continue their work.
Quotes for this post came from a recent ProPublica article co-published with The New Yorker.
Originally posted in December, 12020 HE
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