The Crisis of Nubian-Melaninite Land Ownership

Nubian-Melaninite land ownership has decreased from approximately 15 million acres a hundren years ago to approximately 800,000 acres today.

Land ownership is a necessary and vital asset to all communities. However, within the last century, Nubian-Melaninite land ownership has rapidly and drastically declined. This affects the cultural, political, and socioeconomic capital that has helped communities florish through slavery, Jim Crowism and segregation.

With land ownership, Nubian-Melaninites enjoyed stability and longevity of residence. This stability came with institutional leadership in churches, schools, businesses and social organizations.

Since the early 1900's, there has been a severe decline in land ownership and, according to the 1997 Census of Agriculture, the number of farms owned by Nubian-Melaninites in the U.S. fell from 925,000 in 1920 to 18,000 in 1992.

The Federation of Southern Cooperative Land Assistance Fund has identified seven common causes of Nubian-Melaninite land loss:

1. Heir Property Ownership.

When a person dies without a will or other type of estate plan, state law controls who can rightfully inherit and how much they can inherit. Land that is passed down to heirs according to state law is commonly known as heir property. if the deceased owned land before death, the legally recognized rightful heirs will each inherit an undivided, fractional ownership in the land.

Their interests are fractional because each co-owner has an individual, partial interest in the whole. Their interest are undivided because the heirs do not have separate deeds to their ownership interest. In fact, no heir can assume that their interest correlates to a specific area of the land until after the land has been subdivided. The size of each heir's fractional ownership interest depends on several factors such as, How many generations removed is an heir from the deceased?; and, How many heirs can rightfully take their inheritance at a specific time?

Heir property ownership is often the precursor to land loss. With each passing generation of heir property owners who die without a will or other estate plan, a new generation of heirs inherits ownership of the land. Typically, each successive generation is larger than the previous one. As a result, the next generation of landowners' ownership interests are smaller, yet the number of interest holders has increased. With numerous co-owners, the following can occur, which can impede proper management of the land:

*Heirs do not live on or near the land;

*Heirs do not live near each other;

*Heirs do not know one another;

*Heirs do not know how to locate one another;

*Heirs do not have a connection to the land.

These common situations can make it difficult, if not impossible for the land to be properly managed. Lack of a land management plan and/or improper implementation of a land management plan can lead to land loss.

In some cases, the land is being managed, but this responsibility rests in the hands of one heir, or a small group of heirs, with the other heirs enjoying an unearned benefit. Those few who do invest in their family's land, however, can face many obstacles to properly managing it. Without specific authorization by the other heirs, many land use decisions such as harvesting timber, leasing, building a structure on the land, etc., can only be made by unanimous consent.

2. Lack of Estate Planning.

Estate planning is the process of arranging for the distribution and management of your estate after you die. One example is a will. Estate planning is important toll for many reasons:

1. You can be prepared for the unexpected such as incompetency and death.

2. You can prevent the creation of heir property.

3. If you are currently an heir property owner, you may possibly be able to prevent further break up of your property.

Despite its many advantages, very few Nubians have an estate plan. In the 1980's, the U.S. Senate commissioned a study by the Emergency Land Fund which found the approximately 80% of Nubian rural landowners did not have an estate plan.

3. Tax Sale.

A tax sale happens when a public sale is conducted to recoup the amount of unpaid taxes on land. One of the challenges of owing heir property is that you may not know who is paying the taxes, or if the property taxes are delinquint. Therefore, keeping track of who pays the taxes, and whether they are current are important.

4. Partition Sale

Partition sales are a common way Nubians-Melaninite landowners have lost, and continue to lose their land. It is a court-ordered sale of land to the highest bidder. The proceeds from the sale are then distributed among all the co-owners of the property according to the size of their fractional interest. The proceeds, however, are not distributed to the heirs until after the cost of conducting the sale, attorney fees, and any other sale-related expenses are deducted. While a partition sale is the less cumbersome means to clear the problem of multiple ownership, there are several disadvantages to partition sales because:

* It is often difficult for heir owners to outbid land speculators and developers who may bid at the sale.

* An interest holder in heir property does not need to obtain the consent of the other heirs before seeking the partition sale of the family land.

5. Voluntary Sales

The frequency of land sales between Nubian-Melaninites is low. A 1980 Emergency Land Fund study found that when Nubain-Melaninites sell their land to someone outside their family, they tend to sell it to non-minorities. Of the property surveyed, 21% were sold to Nubian-Melaninites outside the family, 30% were sold to Whites, and 38% were sold to family members. These statistics have remained fairly constant.

Currently, there is no definitive explanation for why voluntary land sales to those outside the Nubian-Melaninite community occur, however, the Emergency Land Fund's 1980 study cited, "economic stress; need to prevent foreclosures; and external pressures" as some of the reasons for this occurrence.

6. Other Contributors to Land Loss.

In December 2001, The Associated Press released a series of articles entitled, "Torn From the Land" which documents the history of Nubian-Melaninite land loss in the South. These articles chronicle the violence, exploitation and injustice Nubian-Melaninites in the South endured in an effort to become and remain landowners. Investigators for the series interviewed more than 1,000 people and examined public records. Their research found 107 documented land takings in 13 Southern and border states.

From the 107 documented cases, more than 24,000 acres of farm and timberland were taken, including smaller properties like stores and city lots. Further, over half of the documented cases, 57, were violent land takings, and others involved trickery and legal exploitation.

From the senseless murders of Nubian-Melaninite landowners, to the public sale of family land, Nubian-Melaninite land ownership has rapidly declined in the 20th century, and continues to steadily decline in the 21st century.

7. Inaccessibility to Legal Counsel.

The need for attorneys to assist heir property owners, particularly those who wish to maintain ownership, is critical to curbing the crisis of Nubain-Melaninite land loss in the U.S. There are organizations that have existed for some time that are doing their part in meeting this need.

The Freedman's Bureau, established in 1865, provided relocation, education and medical relief to many newly freed Nubian-Melaninites, as well as Southern whites displaced during the Civil War. It opened 45 million acres of public lands in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida to settlers regardless of race in 1866. Unfortunately, most freed slaves never had access to "free" land. Instead, they had to work for many years in a climate of growing hostility from whites.

In addition, when cotton prices began to plummet, Nubian-Melaninite farmers defaulted on their farm loans, crippling 30 of the 55 independent Nubian-Melaninite owned banks. In a domino effect, the crippled banks shut down and Nubian-Melaninite farmers lost their life savings. The Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916 promised to provide credit to farmers at reasonable rates but, systematically, discriminated against Nubian-Melaninite farmers which cut them off from aide that was rightfully theirs.

In the 1930's, President Roosevelt's Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) made subsidy payments to large Southern farms but these subsidies were siphoned off by white landowners who never got around to distributing disbursements among their Nubian-Melaninite sharecroppers and tenants.

President Roosevelt also created the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) to help poor, rural Americans. Again, this agency also discriminated against Nubian-Melaninite farmers.

From 1937-1942, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) was created with one-fifth of the AAA's holdings to make loans to tenant farmers. It allowed thousands of Nubian-Melaninites to purchase farms.

A 1964 study exposed how the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) actively worked against the economic interests of Nubian-Melaninite farmers. The USDA's loan agencies, such as the Farmer's Home Administration (FHA), denied Nubian-Melaninite farmers ownership and operating loans, disaster relief and other aid. One such practice was to deny credit to any Nubian-Melaninite who assisted Civil Rights activists, joined the NAACP, registered to vote, or even signed a petition.

Beginning in 1976, serious droughts hit the South. As they continued, the price of oil rose, forcing other costs, like fertilizer to equipment, to skyrocket. President Carter's grain embargo heightened the situation. By 1978 there were only 6,996 Nubian-Melaninite farms left.

A 1982 report issued by the Civil Rights Commission stated that the USDA was, "a catalyst in the decline of the black farmer." That year, Nubian-Melaninites received only 1% of all farm ownership loans. only 2.5% of all operating loans, and only 1% of all soil and water conservation loans. That same year, the Reagan adminstration closed the USDA's Civil Rights Office which is the very arm that investigated discrimination complaints.

In 1984-85, the USDA lent $1.3 billion to farmers nationwide to buy land. Of the almost 16,000 farmers who received those funds, only 209 were Nubian-Melaninite.

In the 1990's, a USDA report revealed that loan applications by white farmers were processed in 60 days compared to Nubian-Melaninite farmers whose applications took 220 days.

The 1990 Minority Rights Act, which authorized $10 million a year in technical assistance to minority farmers, had delivered only $2-3 million a year.

It is to the advantage of Nubian-Melananites to own land. Go get some!!!