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Berlin 1884: Remembering the conference that divided Africa

135 years ago today, European leaders sat around a horseshoe-shaped table to set the rules for Africa’s colonisation.

By Patrick Gathara

The African continent was irrevocably shaped by the Berlin Conference of 1884. Photo Credit: BBC

On the afternoon of Saturday, November 15, 1884, an international conference was opened by the chancellor of the newly-created German Empire at his official residence on Wilhelmstrasse, in Berlin. Sat around a horseshoe-shaped table in a room overlooking the garden with representatives from every European country, apart from Switzerland, as well as those from the United States and the Ottoman Empire. The only clue as to the purpose of the November gathering of white men was hung on the wall – a large map of Africa “drooping down like a question mark” as Nigerian historian, Professor Godfrey Uzoigwe, would comment.

Including a short break for Christmas and the New Year, the West African Conference of Berlin would last 104 days, ending on February 26, 1885. In the 135 years since, the conference has come to represent the late 19th-century European Scramble and Partition of the continent. In the popular imagination, the delegates are hunched over a map, armed with rulers and pencils, sketching out national borders on the continent with no idea of what existed on the ground they were parcelling out. Yet this is mistaken. The Berlin Conference did not begin the scramble. That was well under way. Neither did it partition the continent. Only one state, the short-lived horror that was the Congo Free State, came out of it – though strictly speaking it was not actually a creation of the conference.

It did something much worse, though, with consequences that would reverberate across the years and be felt until today. It established the rules for the conquest and partition of Africa, in the process legitimising the ideas of Africa as a playground for outsiders, its mineral wealth as a resource for the outside world not for Africans and its fate as a matter not to be left to Africans.

From the very start, the conference laid out the order of priorities. “The Powers are in the presence of three interests: That of the commercial and industrial nations, which a common necessity compels to the research of new outlets. That of the States and of the Powers summoned to exercise over the regions of the Congo an authority which will have burdens corresponding to their rights. And, lastly, that which some generous voices have already commended to your solicitude – the interests of the native populations.” It also resolutely refused to consider the question of sovereignty, and the legitimacy of laying claim to someone else’s land and resources.

Uzoigwe notes that: “Bismarck … stated in his opening remarks that delegates had not been assembled to discuss matters of sovereignty either of African states or of the European powers in Africa.” It was no accident that there were no Africans at the table – their opinions were not considered necessary. The efforts of the Sultan of Zanzibar to get himself invited to the party were summarily laughed off by the British.

American journalist Daniel De Leon described the conference as “an event unique in the history of political science … Diplomatic in form, it was economic in fact.” And it is true that while it was dressed up as a humanitarian summit to look at the welfare of locals, its agenda was almost purely economic. Few on the continent or in the African diaspora were fooled. A week before it closed, the Lagos Observer declared that “the world had, perhaps, never witnessed a robbery on so large a scale.” Six years later, another editor of a Lagos newspaper comparing the legacy conference to the slave trade said: “A forcible possession of our land has taken the place of a forcible possession of our person.” Theodore Holly, the first black Protestant Episcopal Bishop in the US, condemned the delegates as having “come together to enact into law, national rapine, robbery and murder”.

The outcome of the conference was the General Act signed and ratified by all but one of the 14 nations at the table, the US being the sole exception. Some of its main features were the establishment of a regime of free trade stretching across the middle of Africa, the development of which became the rationale for the recognition of the Congo Free State and its subsequent 13-year horror, the abolition of the overland slave trade as well as the principle of “effective occupation”.

Though the attempt to create a free trade area in Africa and therefore keep the continent from becoming both a spark for, and a theatre of conflict between the European powers, was ultimately doomed. The principle of “effective occupation” was to become the catalyst for military conquest of the African continent with far-reaching consequences for its inhabitants.

At the time of the conference, 80 percent of Africa remained under traditional and local control. The Europeans only had influence on the coast. Following it, they started grabbing chunks of land inland, ultimately creating a hodgepodge of geometric boundaries that was superimposed over indigenous cultures and regions of Africa. However, to get their claims over African land accepted, European states had to demonstrate that they could actually administer the area.

Often, military victory proved to be the easy part. To govern, they found they had to contend with a confusing milieu of fluid identities and cultures and languages. The Europeans thus set about reorganising Africans into units they could understand and control. As Professor Terence Ranger noted, the colonial period was marked “by systematic inventions of African traditions – ethnicity, customary law, ‘traditional’ religion. Before colonialism Africa was characterised by pluralism, flexibility, multiple identity; after it, African identities of ‘tribe’, gender and generation were all bounded by the rigidities of invented tradition.”

That first-ever international conference on Africa established a template for how the world deals with the continent. Today, Africa is still seen primarily as a source for raw materials for the outside world and an arena for them to compete over. Conferences about the continent are rarely held on the continent itself and rarely care about the views of ordinary Africans.

The sight of African heads of state assembling in foreign capitals to beg for favours is a re-enactment of the Sultan of Zanzibar’s pleading to attend a conference where he would be the main course.

Despite achieving independence for the most part in the 1950s and 1960s, many African countries have continued along the destructive path laid out in Berlin. Former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere declared: “We have artificial ‘nations’ carved out at the Berlin Conference in 1884, and today we are struggling to build these nations into stable units of human society… we are in danger of becoming the most Balkanised continent of the world.” Ethnicity and tribalism continue to be the bane of African politics. “The Berlin Conference was Africa’s undoing in more ways than one,” wrote Jan Nijman, Peter Muller and Harm de Blij in their book, Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts. “The colonial powers superimposed their domains on the African continent. By the time independence returned to Africa… the realm had acquired a legacy of political fragmentation that could neither be eliminated nor made to operate satisfactorily.”

Now, 135 years after Berlin, it is perhaps time for introspection. While it is impossible to turn back the clock, Africans would do well to reflect on what has happened since. Teaching the real history of the subjugation of the continent would help counter the myths of “ancient hatreds” that are said to fuel the conflicts on the continent. And Africans could decide to get together on the continent to debate and decide on the relationship they want with the rest of the world rather than always having that dictated to them from abroad.

Patrick Gathara is a communications consultant, writer, and award-winning political cartoonist based in Nairobi.

READ MORE AT:https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/berlin-1884-remembering-conference-divided-africa-191115110808625.html

This Little Known Fact About Black Giving Might Be Surprising

Maryann Reid

Tracey Webb
Black Benefactors Giving Circle w/Tracey Webb (bottom right)William Perrigen

Blacks give 25% more of their income annually than white households, according to a report by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. 

Though research is limited in this area, it also states “nearly two-thirds of African-American households donated to organizations and causes, totaling $11 billion each year”. In other words, blacks are one the largest group of givers in the country. Financial contributions from the black community have been well-noted and consistent for generations, with “tithing” being an intricate part of black giving and the values of community and mutuality embedded in African traditional values carried over by slaves.  

After losing her job, Tracey Webb, founder of Black Benefactors, based in Washington D.C., started the giving circle organization in 2007 to create a collective “black giving” experience. Webb shares how black philanthropists can have influence on the causes they care about and how to do it.

Maryann Reid: What is a giving circle and is it different from being a philanthropist?

Tracey Webb: A giving circle is a group of individuals that pool their monies for charitable causes and decide together where to give it away. Studies have shown that giving circle members are more likely to volunteer, give more, and give more strategically. The root meaning of the word philanthropy literally means, love of mankind. It doesn’t mean wealth or a large donation. Giving circle members are philanthropists

Reid: What from your personal experience made you start Black Benefactors? 

Webb: My journey began when I lost my job as a nonprofit director. I couldn’t raise the funding needed to keep the organization open. I made a vow to myself that I would help other black nonprofit founders and leaders, but at the time, I didn’t know how. The concept of giving circles was introduced to me a few years earlier, so I began to research them in my spare time. Upon learning, more about how they worked, I realized it would be the perfect way to accomplish my goal of funding black led nonprofits. I came up with the name Black Benefactors to clearly show who the funding is for, and who makes the funding possible. Our giving circle members are the benefactors, which is a person who gives money to a cause. I’ve had members tell me that they didn’t see themselves as benefactors or philanthropists before, but now they do. 

Reid: What’s the first step someone should take if they want to become a philanthropist?

Webb: Since 2014, BB has hosted dinner series events featuring black philanthropists who share their giving story. A common theme among all speakers on their approach to philanthropy can be used as a first step–they identified a focus area for their giving. Usually it was influenced by their interests, or a cause they were personally affected by. One of our past speakers, Reggie Van Lee, is an art collector who established a scholarship for performing arts students at Howard University. He combined his love for the arts and philanthropy. 

Reid: What is a project that your giving circle participated in and that you’re excited about?

Webb: We launched a capacity building project this year to help strengthen black led nonprofits in the D.C. area. Through partnerships with local funders and a consulting firm, our grantee partners and grant applicants can receive in-kind support to strengthen their infrastructure. Our first workshop was held in partnership with the D.C. office of “Blacks at Bain” of Bain & Company, a global consultancy firm, on board development, and a second workshop was held with the Beckner Advancement Fund, a social justice funder based in D.C. 

Reid: Tell me about the very first grant you awarded. What was that like?

Webb: Our first grants totaling $9,000 were awarded in 2009. It was very moving for me because behind that first grant was years of planning, research, recruiting, meetings and fundraising. To be able to award a grant that was from us, for us was the best feeling in the world. I continue to experience that feeling with each grant cycle. Our grantees have shared with us that receiving a grant from black donors is impactful and for some, the first time. I’m proud to say that with each grant cycle, we’ve increased our total grant awards.  

Reid: Why is now an important time for blacks to give?

Webb: Now is an important time to support a giving circle like ours because there are initiatives to increase funding and resources to black led businesses, but what about black-led nonprofits? Only 3% of national foundation funding is allocated to these organizations, which are often underfunded, if funded at all, and under-resourced. Because of this reason, we aim to fill this critical gap in resources by funding black-led nonprofits at the highest level possible each grant cycle instead of awarding several small grants. 

Reid: How can someone start giving if they only have $500? Is that enough?

Webb: Absolutely. In fact, two of our past grants were in the amount of $500 for the purchase of wish list items. To get started, if there’s a giving circle in your community, consider donating to one or more of their grantees. Giving circles are more likely to support small organizations and $500 can go a long way. Or, leverage your $500 with others by joining or donating to a giving circle for a larger gift. I’d also like to add that you can start giving at any amount. 

Reid: What is in the future for Black Benefactors?

Webb: We are undergoing a restructuring process to better serve our members, grantee partners and the community. During this time, we’re accepting donations to support our grant making. Looking into my Black Benefactors crystal ball, I see new members, larger grant awards and a youth component in our future. 

Reid: How can someone support black philanthropy now?

Webb: Learn more about the history and impact of black giving circles by reading “The Sweetness of Circles” here, an op-ed that I co-authored with Akira Barclay and Valaida Fullwood, and start planning now to celebrate Black Philanthropy Month in August 2020 by visiting www.blackphilanthropymonth.com.  Most importantly, share how you give black year-round with #BPM365

The Great Land Robbery: The shameful story of how 1 million black families have been ripped from their farms

Vann R. Newkirk III September 2019

I. Wiped Out

“You ever chop before?” Willena Scott-White was testing me. I sat with her in the cab of a Chevy Silverado pickup truck, swatting at the squadrons of giant, fluttering mosquitoes that had invaded the interior the last time she opened a window. I was spending the day with her family as they worked their fields just outside Ruleville, in Mississippi’s Leflore County. With her weathered brown hands, Scott-White gave me a pork sandwich wrapped in a grease-stained paper towel. I slapped my leg. Mosquitoes can bite through denim, it turns out.

Cotton sowed with planters must be chopped—thinned and weeded manually with hoes—to produce orderly rows of fluffy bolls. The work is backbreaking, and the people who do it maintain that no other job on Earth is quite as demanding. I had labored long hours over other crops, but had to admit to Scott-White, a 60-something grandmother who’d grown up chopping, that I’d never done it.

“Then you ain’t never worked,” she replied.

The fields alongside us as we drove were monotonous. With row crops, monotony is good. But as we toured 1,000 acres of land in Leflore and Bolivar Counties, straddling Route 61, Scott-White pointed out the demarcations between plots. A trio of steel silos here. A post there. A patch of scruffy wilderness in the distance. Each landmark was a reminder of the Scott legacy that she had fought to keep—or to regain—and she noted this with pride. Each one was also a reminder of an inheritance that had once been stolen.

Drive Route 61 through the Mississippi Delta and you’ll find much of the scenery exactly as it was 50 or 75 years ago. Imposing plantations and ramshackle shotgun houses still populate the countryside from Memphis to Vicksburg. Fields stretch to the horizon. The hands that dig into black Delta dirt belong to people like Willena Scott-White, African Americans who bear faces and names passed down from men and women who were owned here, who were kept here, and who chose to stay here, tending the same fields their forebears tended.

But some things have changed. Back in the day, snow-white bolls of King Cotton reigned. Now much of the land is green with soybeans. The farms and plantations are much larger—industrial operations with bioengineered plants, laser-guided tractors, and crop-dusting drones. Fewer and fewer farms are still owned by actual farmers. Investors in boardrooms throughout the country have bought hundreds of thousands of acres of premium Delta land. If you’re one of the millions of people who have a retirement account with the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, for instance, you might even own a little bit yourself.

A war waged by deed of title has dispossessed 98 percent of black agricultural landowners in America.

TIAA is one of the largest pension firms in the United States. Together with its subsidiaries and associated funds, it has a portfolio of more than 80,000 acres in Mississippi alone, most of them in the Delta. If the fertile crescent of Arkansas is included, TIAA holds more than 130,000 acres in a strip of counties along the Mississippi River. And TIAA is not the only big corporate landlord in the region. Hancock Agricultural Investment Group manages more than 65,000 acres in what it calls the “Delta states.” The real-estate trust Farmland Partners has 30,000 acres in and around the Delta. AgriVest, a subsidiary of the Swiss bank UBS, owned 22,000 acres as of 2011. (AgriVest did not respond to a request for more recent information.)

Unlike their counterparts even two or three generations ago, black people living and working in the Delta today have been almost completely uprooted from the soil—as property owners, if not as laborers. In Washington County, Mississippi, where last February TIAA reportedly bought 50,000 acres for more than $200 million, black people make up 72 percent of the population but own only 11 percent of the farmland, in part or in full. In Tunica County, where TIAA has acquired plantations from some of the oldest farm-owning white families in the state, black people make up 77 percent of the population but own only 6 percent of the farmland. In Holmes County, the third-blackest county in the nation, black people make up about 80 percent of the population but own only 19 percent of the farmland. TIAA owns plantations there, too. In just a few years, a single company has accumulated a portfolio in the Delta almost equal to the remaining holdings of the African Americans who have lived on and shaped this land for centuries.

This is not a story about TIAA—at least not primarily. The company’s newfound dominance in the region is merely the topsoil covering a history of loss and legally sanctioned theft in which TIAA played no part. But TIAA’s position is instrumental in understanding both how the crimes of Jim Crow have been laundered by time and how the legacy of ill-gotten gains has become a structural part of American life. The land was wrested first from Native Americans, by force. It was then cleared, watered, and made productive for intensive agriculture by the labor of enslaved Africans, who after Emancipation would come to own a portion of it. Later, through a variety of means—sometimes legal, often coercive, in many cases legal and coercive, occasionally violent—farmland owned by black people came into the hands of white people. It was aggregated into larger holdings, then aggregated again, eventually attracting the interest of Wall Street.

Owners of small farms everywhere, black and white alike, have long been buffeted by larger economic forces. But what happened to black landowners in the South, and particularly in the Delta, is distinct, and was propelled not only by economic change but also by white racism and local white power. A war waged by deed of title has dispossessed 98 percent of black agricultural landowners in America. They have lost 12 million acres over the past century. But even that statement falsely consigns the losses to long-ago history. In fact, the losses mostly occurred within living memory, from the 1950s onward. Today, except for a handful of farmers like the Scotts who have been able to keep or get back some land, black people in this most productive corner of the Deep South own almost nothing of the bounty under their feet.

II. “Land Hunger”

Land has always been the main battleground of racial conflict in Mississippi. During Reconstruction, fierce resistance from the planters who had dominated antebellum society effectively killed any promise of land or protection from the Freedmen’s Bureau, forcing masses of black laborers back into de facto bondage. But the sheer size of the black population—black people were a majority in Mississippi until the 1930s—meant that thousands were able to secure tenuous footholds as landowners between Emancipation and the Great Depression.

Driven by what W. E. B. Du Bois called “land hunger” among freedmen during Reconstruction, two generations of black workers squirreled away money and went after every available and affordable plot they could, no matter how marginal or hopeless. Some found sympathetic white landowners who would sell to them. Some squatted on unused land or acquired the few homesteads available to black people. Some followed visionary leaders to all-black utopian agrarian experiments, such as Mound Bayou, in Bolivar County.

From March 1901: W. E. B. Du Bois’s ‘The Freedmen’s Bureau’

It was never much, and it was never close to just, but by the early 20th century, black people had something to hold on to. In 1900, according to the historian James C. Cobb, black landowners in Tunica County outnumbered white ones three to one. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there were 25,000 black farm operators in 1910, an increase of almost 20 percent from 1900. Black farmland in Mississippi totaled 2.2 million acres in 1910—some 14 percent of all black-owned agricultural land in the country, and the most of any state.

The foothold was never secure. From the beginning, even the most enterprising black landowners found themselves fighting a war of attrition, often fraught with legal obstacles that made passing title to future generations difficult. Bohlen Lucas, one of the few black Democratic politicians in the Delta during Reconstruction (most black politicians at the time were Republicans), was born enslaved and managed to buy a 200-acre farm from his former overseer. But, like many farmers, who often have to borrow against expected harvests to pay for equipment, supplies, and the rent or mortgage on their land, Lucas depended on credit extended by powerful lenders. In his case, credit depended specifically on white patronage, given in exchange for his help voting out the Reconstruction government—after which his patrons abandoned him. He was left with 20 acres.

In Humphreys County, Lewis Spearman avoided the pitfalls of white patronage by buying less valuable wooded tracts and grazing cattle there as he moved into cotton. But when cotton crashed in the 1880s, Spearman, over his head in debt, crashed with it.

Around the turn of the century, in Leflore County, a black farm organizer and proponent of self-sufficiency—referred to as a “notoriously bad Negro” in the local newspapers—led a black populist awakening, marching defiantly and by some accounts bringing boycotts against white merchants. White farmers responded with a posse that may have killed as many as 100 black farmers and sharecroppers along with women and children. The fate of the “bad Negro” in question, named Oliver Cromwell, is uncertain. Some sources say he escaped to Jackson, and into anonymity.

Like so many of his forebears, Ed Scott Sr., Willena Scott-White’s grandfather, acquired his land through not much more than force of will. As recorded in the thick binders of family history that Willena had brought along in the truck, and that we flipped through between stretches of work in the fields, his life had attained the gloss of folklore. He was born in 1886 in western Alabama, a generation removed from bondage. Spurred by that same land hunger, Scott took his young family to the Delta, seeking opportunities to farm his own property. He sharecropped and rented, and managed large farms for white planters, who valued his ability to run their sprawling estates. One of these men was Palmer H. Brooks, who owned a 7,000-acre plantation in Mississippi’s Leflore and Sunflower Counties. Brooks was uncommonly progressive, encouraging entrepreneurship among the black laborers on his plantation, building schools and churches for them, and providing loans. Scott was ready when Brooks decided to sell plots to black laborers, and he bought his first 100 acres.

Unlike Bohlen Lucas, Scott largely avoided politics. Unlike Lewis Spearman, he paid his debts and kept some close white allies—a necessity, since he usually rejected government assistance. And unlike Oliver Cromwell, he led his community under the rules already in place, appearing content with what he’d earned for his family in an environment of total segregation. He leveraged technical skills and a talent for management to impress sympathetic white people and disarm hostile ones. “Granddaddy always had nice vehicles,” Scott-White told me. They were a trapping of pride in a life of toil. As was true in most rural areas at the time, a new truck was not just a flashy sign of prosperity but also a sort of credit score. Wearing starched dress shirts served the same purpose, elevating Scott in certain respects—always within limits—even above some white farmers who drove into town in dirty overalls. The trucks got shinier as his holdings grew. By the time Scott died, in 1957, he had amassed more than 1,000 acres of farmland.

Scott-White guided me right up to the Quiver River, where the legend of her family began. It was a choked, green-brown gurgle of a thing, the kind of lazy waterway that one imagines to be brimming with fat, yawning catfish and snakes. “Mr. Brooks sold all of the land on the east side of this river to black folks,” Scott-White told me. She swept her arm to encompass the endless acres. “All of these were once owned by black families.”

III. The Great Dispossession

That era of black ownership, in the Delta and throughout the country, was already fading by the time Scott died. As the historian Pete Daniel recounts, half a million black-owned farms across the country failed in the 25 years after 1950. Joe Brooks, the former president of the Emergency Land Fund, a group founded in 1972 to fight the problem of dispossession, has estimated that something on the order of 6 million acres was lost by black farmers from 1950 to 1969. That’s an average of 820 acres a day—an area the size of New York’s Central Park erased with each sunset. Black-owned cotton farms in the South almost completely disappeared, diminishing from 87,000 to just over 3,000 in the 1960s alone. According to the Census of Agriculture, the racial disparity in farm acreage increased in Mississippi from 1950 to 1964, when black farmers lost almost 800,000 acres of land. An analysis for The Atlantic by a research team that included Dania Francis, at the University of Massachusetts, and Darrick Hamilton, at Ohio State, translates this land loss into a financial loss—including both property and income—of $3.7 billion to $6.6 billion in today’s dollars.

This was a silent and devastating catastrophe, one created and maintained by federal policy. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal life raft for agriculture helped start the trend in 1937 with the establishment of the Farm Security Administration, an agency within the Department of Agriculture. Although the FSA ostensibly existed to help the country’s small farmers, as happened with much of the rest of the New Deal, white administrators often ignored or targeted poor black people—denying them loans and giving sharecropping work to white people. After Roosevelt’s death, in 1945, conservatives in Congress replaced the FSA with the Farmers Home Administration, or FmHA. The FmHA quickly transformed the FSA’s programs for small farmers, establishing the sinews of the loan-and-subsidy structure that undergirds American agriculture today. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy’s administration created the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, or ASCS, a complementary program to the FmHA that also provided loans to farmers. The ASCS was a federal effort—also within the Department of Agriculture—but, crucially, the members of committees doling out money and credit were elected locally, during a time when black people were prohibited from voting.

Through these programs, and through massive crop and surplus purchasing, the USDA became the safety net, price-setter, chief investor, and sole regulator for most of the farm economy in places like the Delta. The department could offer better loan terms to risky farmers than banks and other lenders, and mostly outcompeted private credit. In his book Dispossession, Daniel calls the setup “agrigovernment.” Land-grant universities pumped out both farm operators and the USDA agents who connected those operators to federal money. Large plantations ballooned into even larger industrial crop factories as small farms collapsed. The mega-farms held sway over agricultural policy, resulting in more money, at better interest rates, for the plantations themselves. At every level of agrigovernment, the leaders were white.

READ MORE AT: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/09/this-land-was-our-land/594742/

Why Are So Many Black Families Losing Their Land?


Lizzie Presser 17 Jul 2019

Mansions on land once owned by Freeman’s family.

The Reels brothers spent eight years in jail for refusing to leave their plot of land in North Carolina.

Since 1910, black families have been stripped of hundreds of billions of dollars because of lost land.”

In the Spring of 2011, the brothers Melvin Davis and Licurtis Reels were the talk of Carteret County, on the central coast of North Carolina. Some people said that the brothers were righteous; others thought that they had lost their minds. That March, Melvin and Licurtis stood in court and refused to leave the land that they had lived on all their lives, a portion of which had, without their knowledge or consent, been sold to developers years before. The brothers were among dozens of Reels family members who considered the land theirs, but Melvin and Licurtis had a particular stake in it. Melvin, who was 64, with loose black curls combed into a ponytail, ran a club there and lived in an apartment above it. He’d established a career shrimping in the river that bordered the land, and his sense of self was tied to the water. Licurtis, who was 53, had spent years building a house near the river’s edge, just steps from his mother’s.

Their great-grandfather had bought the land a hundred years earlier, when he was a generation removed from slavery. The property — 65 marshy acres that ran along Silver Dollar Road, from the woods to the river’s sandy shore — was racked by storms. Some called it the bottom, or the end of the world. Melvin and Licurtis’ grandfather Mitchell Reels was a deacon; he farmed watermelons, beets and peas, and raised chickens and hogs. Churches held tent revivals on the waterfront, and kids played in the river, a prime spot for catching red-tailed shrimp and crabs bigger than shoes. During the later years of racial-segregation laws, the land was home to the only beach in the county that welcomed black families. “It’s our own little black country club,” Melvin and Licurtis’ sister Mamie liked to say. In 1970, when Mitchell died, he had one final wish. “Whatever you do,” he told his family on the night that he passed away, “don’t let the white man have the land.”

“The land was home to the only beach in the county that welcomed black families.”

Mitchell didn’t trust the courts, so he didn’t leave a will. Instead, he let the land become heirs’ property, a form of ownership in which descendants inherit an interest, like holding stock in a company. The practice began during Reconstruction, when many African Americans didn’t have access to the legal system, and it continued through the Jim Crow era, when black communities were suspicious of white Southern courts. In the United States today, 76% of African Americans do not have a will, more than twice the percentage of white Americans.

Many assume that not having a will keeps land in the family. In reality, it jeopardizes ownership. David Dietrich, a former co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Property Preservation Task Force, has called heirs’ property “the worst problem you never heard of.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recognized it as “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.

Between 1910 and 1997, African Americans lost about 90% of their farmland. This problem is a major contributor to America’s racial wealth gap; the median wealth among black families is about a tenth that of white families. Now, as reparations have become a subject of national debate, the issue of black land loss is receiving renewed attention. A group of economists and statisticians recently calculated that, since 1910, black families have been stripped of hundreds of billions of dollars because of lost land. Nathan Rosenberg, a lawyer and a researcher in the group, told me, “If you want to understand wealth and inequality in this country, you have to understand black 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.”

By the time of Melvin and Licurtis’ hearing in 2011, they had spent decades fighting to keep the waterfront on Silver Dollar Road. They’d been warned that they would go to jail if they didn’t comply with a court order to stay off the land, and they felt betrayed by the laws that had allowed it to be taken from them. They had been baptized in that water. “You going to go there, take my dreams from me like that?” Licurtis asked on the stand. “How about it was you?”

They expected to argue their case in court that day. Instead, the judge ordered them sent to jail, for civil contempt. Hearing the ruling, Melvin handed his 83-year-old mother, Gertrude, his flip phone and his gold watch. As the eldest son, he had promised relatives that he would assume responsibility for the family. “I can take it,” he said. Licurtis looked at the floor and shook his head. He had thought he’d be home by the afternoon; he’d even left his house unlocked. The bailiff, who had never booked anyone in civil superior court, had only one set of handcuffs. She put a cuff on each brother’s wrist, and led them out the back door. The brothers hadn’t been charged with a crime or given a jury trial. Still, they believed so strongly in their right to the property that they spent the next eight years fighting the case from jail, becoming two of the longest-serving inmates for civil contempt in U.S. history.

You going to go there, take my dreams from me like that?”

Land was an ideological priority for black families after the Civil War, when nearly 4 million people were freed from slavery. On Jan. 12, 1865, just before emancipation, the Union Army Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman met with 20 black ministers in Savannah, Georgia, and asked them what they needed. “The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land,” their spokesperson, the Rev. Garrison Frazier, told Sherman. Freedom, he said, was “placing us where we could reap the fruit of our own labor.” Sherman issued a special field order declaring that 400,000 acres formerly held by Confederates be given to African Americans — what came to be known as the promise of “40 acres and a mule.” The following year, Congress passed the Southern Homestead Act, opening up an additional 46 million acres of public land for Union supporters and freed people.

The promises never materialized. In 1876, near the end of Reconstruction, only about 5% of black families in the Deep South owned land. But a new group of black landowners soon established themselves. Many had experience in the fields, and they began buying farms, often in places with arid or swampy soil, especially along the coast. By 1920, African Americans, who made up 10% of the population, represented 14% of Southern farm owners.

A white-supremacist backlash spread across the South. At the end of the 19th century, members of a movement who called themselves Whitecaps, led by poor white farmers, accosted black landowners at night, beating them or threatening murder if they didn’t abandon their homes. In Lincoln County, Mississippi, Whitecaps killed a man named Henry List, and more than 50 African Americans fled the town in a single day. Over two months in 1912, violent white mobs in Forsyth County, Georgia, drove out almost the entire black population — more than a thousand people. Ray Winbush, the director of the Institute for Urban Research, at Morgan State University, told me, “There is this idea that most blacks were lynched because they did something untoward to a young woman. That’s not true. Most black men were lynched between 1890 and 1920 because whites wanted their land.”

“By 1920, African Americans represented 14% of Southern farm owners.”

By the second half of the 20th century, a new form of dispossession had emerged, officially sanctioned by the courts and targeting heirs’ property owners without clear titles. These landowners are exposed in a variety of ways. They don’t qualify for certain Department of Agriculture loans to purchase livestock or cover the cost of planting. Individual heirs can’t use their land as collateral with banks and other institutions, and so are denied private financing and federal home-improvement loans. They generally aren’t eligible for disaster relief. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina laid bare the extent of the problem in New Orleans, where 25,000 families who applied for rebuilding grants had heirs’ property. One Louisiana real-estate attorney estimated that up to $165 million of recovery funds were never claimed because of title issues.

Heirs are rarely aware of the tenuous nature of their ownership. Even when they are, clearing a title is often an unaffordable and complex process, which requires tracking down every living heir, and there are few lawyers who specialize in the field. Nonprofits often pick up the slack. The Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation, in South Carolina, has cleared more than 200 titles in the past decade, almost all of them for African-American families, protecting land valued at nearly $14 million. Josh Walden, the center’s chief operating officer, told me that it had mapped out a hundred thousand acres of heirs’ property in South Carolina. He said that investors hoping to build golf courses or hotels can target these plots. “We had to be really mindful that we didn’t share those maps with anyone, because otherwise they’d be a shopping catalogue,” he told me. “And it’s not as if it dries up. New heirs’ property is being created every day.”

Through interviews and courthouse records, I analyzed more than three dozen cases from recent years in which heirs’ property owners lost land — land that, for many of them, was not only their sole asset but also a critical part of their heritage and their sense of home. The problem has been especially acute in Carteret County. Beaufort, the county seat, was once the site of a major refugee camp for freed people. Black families eventually built homes near where the tents had stood. But in the 1970s the town became a tourist destination, with upscale restaurants, boutiques, and docks for yachts. Real-estate values surged, and out-of-town speculators flooded the county. David Cecelski, a historian of the North Carolina coast, told me, “You can’t talk to an African-American family who owned land in those counties and not find a story where they feel like land was taken from them against their will, through legal trickery.”

Investors hoping to build golf courses or hotels can target these plots.”

Beaufort is a quaint town, lined with coastal cottages and Colonial homes. When I arrived, last fall, I drove 20 miles to Silver Dollar Road, where Melvin and Licurtis’ family lives in dozens of trailers and wood-panelled houses, scattered under pine and gum trees.

Melvin and Licurtis’ mother, Gertrude, greeted me at her house and led me into her living room, where porcelain angels lined one wall. Gertrude is tough and quiet, her high voice muffled by tobacco that she packs into her cheek. People call her Mrs. Big Shit. “It’s because I didn’t pay them no mind,” she told me. The last of Mitchell Reels’ children to remain on the property, she is the family matriarch. Grandchildren, nieces and nephews let themselves into her house to pick up mail or take out her trash. Around dinnertime on the day I was there, the trickle of visitors turned into a crowd. Gertrude went into the kitchen, coated fish fillets with cornmeal and fried them for everyone.

Her daughter Mamie told me that Melvin and Licurtis had revelled in the land as kids, playing among the inky eels and conch shells. In the evenings, the brothers would sit on the porch with their cousins, a rag burning to keep the mosquitoes away. On weekends, a pastor strode down the dirt street, robed in white, his congregants singing “Wade in the Water.” Licurtis was a shy, humble kid who liked working in the cornfields. Melvin was his opposite. “When the school bus showed up, when he come home, the crowd would come with him and stay all night,” Gertrude said. When Melvin was 9, he built a boat from pine planks and began tugging it along the shore. A neighbor offered to teach him how to shrimp, and, in the summer, Melvin dropped nets off the man’s trawler. He left school in the 10th grade; his catch was bringing in around a thousand dollars a week. He developed a taste for sleek cars, big jewelry and women, and started buying his siblings Chuck Taylors and Timberlands.

Gertrude was the administrator of the estate. She’d left school in the eighth grade and wasn’t accustomed to navigating the judicial system, but after Mitchell’s death she secured a court ruling declaring that the land belonged to his heirs. The judgment read, “The surviving eleven (11) children or descendants of children of Mitchell Reels are the owners of the lands exclusive of any other claim of any one.”

“Gertrude secured a court ruling declaring that the land belonged to his heirs.”

In 1978, Gertrude’s uncle Shedrick Reels tried to carve out for himself the most valuable slice of land, on the river. He used a legal doctrine called adverse possession, which required him to prove that he had occupied the waterfront for years, continuously and publicly, against the owners’ wishes. Shedrick, who went by Shade and worked as a tire salesman in New Jersey, hadn’t lived on Silver Dollar Road in 27 years. But he claimed that “tenants” had stood in for him — he had built a house on the waterfront in 1950, and relatives had rented it or run it as a club at various times since. Some figured that it was Shade’s land. He also produced a deed that his father, Elijah, had given him in 1950, even though Mitchell, another of Elijah’s sons, had owned the land at the time.

Shade made his argument through an obscure law called the Torrens Act. Under Torrens, Shade didn’t have to abide by the formal rules of a court. Instead, he could simply prove adverse possession to a lawyer, whom the court appointed, and whom he paid. The Torrens Act has long had a bad reputation, especially in Carteret. “It’s a legal way to steal land,” Theodore Barnes, a land broker there, told me. The law was intended to help clear up muddled titles, but, in 1932, a law professor at the University of North Carolina found that it had been 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 Shade’s lawyer, Nelson Taylor, acknowledged that it was abused; he told me that his own grandfather had lost a 50-acre plot to Torrens. “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.”

“The Torrens Act is ‘a legal way to steal land.’”

Mitchell’s kids and grandkids were puzzled that Shade’s maneuver was legal—they had Mitchell’s deed and a court order declaring that the land was theirs. And they had all grown up on that waterfront. “How can they take this land from us and we on it?” Melvin said. “We been there all our days.” Gertrude’s brother Calvin, who handled legal matters for the family, hired Claud Wheatly III, the son of one of the most powerful lawyers in town, to represent the siblings at a Torrens hearing about the claim. Gertrude, Melvin and his cousin Ralphele Reels, the only surviving heirs who attended the hearing, said that they left confident that the waterfront hadn’t gone to Shade. “No one in the family thought at the end of the day that it was his land and we were going to walk away from it forever,” Ralphele told me.

Wheatly told me a different story. In his memory, the Torrens hearing was chaotic, but the heirs agreed to give Shade, who has since died, the waterfront. When I pressed Wheatly, he conceded that not all the heirs liked the outcome, but he said that Calvin had consented. “I would have been upset if Calvin had not notified them, because I generally don’t get involved in those things without having a family representative in charge,” he told me. He said that he never had a written agreement with Calvin — just a conversation. (Calvin died shortly after the hearing.) The lawyer examining Shade’s case granted him the waterfront, and Wheatly signed off on the decision. The Reels family, though it didn’t yet know it, had lost the rights to the land on the shoreline.

Licurtis had set up a trailer near the river a couple of years earlier, in 1977. He was working as a brick mason and often hosted men from the neighborhood for Budweiser and beans in the evenings. Melvin had become the center of a local economy on the shore. He taught the men how to work the water, and he paid the women to prepare his catch, pressing the soft crevice above the shrimps’ eyes and popping off their heads. He had a son, Little Melvin, and in the summers his nephews and cousins came to the beach, too. One morning, he took eight of them out on the water and then announced that he’d made a mistake: only four were allowed on the boat. He threw them overboard one by one. “We’re thinking, We’re gonna drown,” one cousin told me. “And he jumps off the boat with us and teaches us how to swim.”

In 1982, Melvin and Gertrude received a trespassing notice from Shade. They took it to a lawyer, who informed them that Shade now legally owned a little more than 13 acres of the 65-acre plot. The family was stunned, and suspicious of the claim’s validity. Many of the tenants listed to prove Shade’s continuous possession were vague or unrecognizable, like “Mitchell Reels’ boy,” or “Julian Leonard,” whom Gertrude had never heard of. (She had a sister named Julia and a brother named Leonard but no memory of either one living on the waterfront.) The lawyer who granted the land to Shade had also never reported the original court ruling that Gertrude had won, as he should have done.

Shade’s ownership would be almost impossible to overturn. There’s a one-year window to appeal a Torrens decision in North Carolina, and the family had missed it by two years. Soon afterward, Shade sold the land to developers.

“Shade now legally owned a little more than 13 acres of the 65-acre plot.”

The Reelses knew that if condos or a marina were built on the waterfront the remaining 50 acres of Silver Dollar Road could be taxed not as small homes on swampy fields but as a high-end resort. If they fell behind on the higher taxes, the county could auction off their property. “It would break our family right up,” Melvin told me. “You leave here, you got no more freedom.”

This kind of tax sale has a long history in the dispossession of heirs’ property owners. In 1992, the NAACP accused local officials of intentionally inflating taxes to push out black families on Daufuskie, a South Carolina sea island that has become one of the hottest real-estate markets on the Atlantic coast. Property taxes had gone up as much as 700% in a single decade. “It is clear that the county has pursued a pattern of conduct that disproportionately displaces or evicts African-Americans from Daufuskie, thereby segregating the island and the county as a whole,” the NAACP wrote to county officials. Nearby Hilton Head, which as recently as two decades ago comprised several thousand acres of heirs’ property, now, by one estimate, has a mere 200 such acres left. Investors fly into the county each October to bid on tax-delinquent properties in a local gymnasium.

In the upscale town of Summerville, South Carolina, I met Wendy Reed, who, in 2012, was late paying $83.81 in taxes on the lot she had lived on for nearly four decades. 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 Reed’s grandmother had died 30 years before. Tax clerks in the county estimate that each year they send about a quarter of the people who try to redeem delinquent property to probate court because they aren’t listed on the deed or named by the court as an heir. Limehouse told me, “To not probate the estate and not pay the taxes shouldn’t be a reason for special dispensation. When you let things go, you can’t blame the county.” Reed has been fighting the case in court since 2014. “I’m still not leaving,” she told me. “You’ll have to pack my stuff and put me off.”

“Tax sales have a long history in the dispossession of heirs’ property.”

FOR YEARS, the conflict on Silver Dollar Road was dormant, and Melvin continued expanding his businesses. Each week, Gertrude packed two-pound bags of shrimp to sell at the farmers’ market, along with petunias and gardenias from her yard. Melvin was also remodelling a night club, Fantasy Island, on the shore. He’d decked it out with disco lights and painted it white, he said, so that “on the water it would shine like gold.”

The majority of the property remained in the family, including the land on which Gertrude’s house stood. But Licurtis had been building a home in place of his trailer on the contested waterfront. “It was the most pretty spot,” he told me. “I’d walk to the water, and look at my yard, and see how beautiful it was.” He’d collected the signatures of other heirs to prove that he had permission, and registered a deed.

When real-estate agents or speculators came to the shore, Melvin tried to scare them away. A developer told me that once, when he showed the property to potential buyers, “Melvin had a roof rack behind his pickup, jumped out, snatched a gun out.” It wasn’t the only time that Melvin took out his rifle. “You show people that you got to protect yourself,” he told me. “Any fool who wouldn’t do that would be crazy.” His instinct had always been to confront a crisis head on. When hurricanes came through and most people sought higher ground, he’d go out to his trawler and steer it into the storm.

The Reels family began to believe that there was a conspiracy against them. They watched Jet Skis crawl slowly past in the river and shiny SUVs drive down Silver Dollar Road; they suspected that people were scouting the property. Melvin said that he received phone calls from mysterious men issuing threats. “I thought people were out to get me,” he said. Gertrude remembers that, one day at the farmers’ market, a white customer sneered that she was the only thing standing in the way of development.

In 1986, Billie Dean Brown, a partner at a real-estate investment company called Adams Creek Associates, had bought Shade’s waterfront plot sight unseen to divide and sell. Brown was attracted to the strength of the Torrens title, which he knew was effectively incontrovertible. When he discovered that Melvin and Licurtis lived on the property, he wasn’t troubled. Brown was known among colleagues as Little Caesar — a small man who finished any job he started. In the early 2000s, he hired a lawyer: Claud Wheatly III. The man once tasked with protecting the Reels family’s land was now being paid to evict them from it. Melvin and Licurtis saw Wheatly’s involvement as a clear conflict of interest. Their lawyers tried to disqualify Wheatly, arguing that he was breaching confidentiality and switching sides, but the judge denied the motions.

“A white customer sneered that Gertrude was the only thing standing in the way of development.”

Earlier this year, I met Wheatly in his office, a few blocks from the county courthouse. Tall and imposing, he has a ruddy face and a teal-blue stare. We sat under the head of a stuffed warthog, and he chewed tobacco as we spoke. He told me that he had no confidential information about the Reelses, and that he’d never represented Melvin and Licurtis; he’d represented their mother and her siblings. “Melvin won’t own one square inch until his mother dies,” he said.

In 2004, Wheatly got a court order prohibiting the brothers from going on the waterfront property. The Reels family began a series of appeals and filings asking for the decree to be set aside, but judge after judge ruled that the family had waited too long to contest the Torrens decision.

Licurtis didn’t talk about the case, and tried to hide his stress. But, Mamie told me, “you could see him wearing it.” Occasionally, she would catch a glimpse of him pacing the road early in the morning. When he first understood that he could face time in jail for remaining in his house, he tried removing the supports underneath it, thinking that he could hire someone to wrench the foundation from the mud and move it elsewhere. Gertrude wouldn’t allow him to go through with it. “You’re not going with the house nowhere,” she told him. “That’s yours.”

At 4 a.m. on a spring day in 2007, Melvin was asleep in his apartment above the club when he heard a boom, like a crash of thunder. He went to the shore and found that his trawler, named Nancy J., was sinking. Yellow plastic gloves, canned beans and wooden crab boxes floated in the water. There was a large hole in the hull, and Melvin realized that the boom had been an explosion. He filed a report with the sheriff’s office, but it never confirmed whether an explosive was used or whether it was an accident, and no charges were filed. Melvin began to wake with a start at night, pull out his flashlight, and scan the fields for intruders.

By the time of the brothers’ hearing in 2011, Melvin had lost so much weight that Licurtis joked that he could store water in the caverns by his collarbones. The family had come to accept that the dispute wasn’t going away. If the brothers had to go to jail, they would. Even after the judge in the hearing found them guilty of civil contempt, Melvin said, “I ain’t backing down.” Licurtis called home later that day. “It’ll be all right,” he told Gertrude. “We’ll be home soon.”

If the brothers had to go to jail, they would.”

One of the most pernicious legal mechanisms used to dispossess heirs’ property owners is called a partition action. In the course of generations, heirs tend to disperse and lose any connection to the land. Speculators can buy off the interest of a single heir, and just one heir or speculator, no matter how minute his share, can force the sale of an entire plot through the courts. Andrew Kahrl, an associate professor of history and African-American studies at the University of Virginia, told me that even small financial incentives can have the effect of turning relatives against one another, and developers exploit these divisions. “You need to have some willing participation from black families — driven by the desire to profit off their land holdings,” Kahrl said. “But it does boil down to greed and abuse of power and the way in which Americans’ history of racial inequality can be used to the advantage of developers.” As the Reels family grew over time, the threat of a partition sale mounted; if one heir decided to sell, the whole property would likely go to auction at a price that none of them could pay.

When courts originally gained the authority to order a partition sale, around the time of the Civil War, the Wisconsin Supreme Court called it “an extraordinary and dangerous power” that should be used sparingly. In the past several decades, many courts have favored such sales, arguing that the value of a property in its entirety is greater than the value of it in pieces. But the sales are often speedy and poorly advertised, and tend to fetch below-market prices.

On the coast of North Carolina, I met Billy Freeman, who grew up working in the parking lot of his uncle’s beachside dance hall, Monte Carlo by the Sea. His family, which once owned thousands of acres, ran the largest black beach in the state, with juke joints and crab shacks, an amusement park and a three-story hotel. But, over the decades, developers acquired interests from other heirs, and, in 2008, one firm petitioned the court for a sale of the whole property. Freeman attempted to fight the partition for years. “I didn’t want to lose the land, but I felt like everybody else had sold,” he told me. In 2016, the beach, which covered 170 acres, was sold to the development firm for $1.4 million. On neighboring beaches, that sum could buy a tiny fraction of a parcel so large. Freeman got only $30,000.

Even small financial incentives can have the effect of turning relatives against one another.”

The lost property isn’t just money; it’s also identity. In one case that I examined, the mining company PCS Phosphate forced the sale of a 40-acre plot, which contained a family cemetery, against the wishes of several heirs, whose ancestors had been enslaved on the property. (A spokesperson for the company told me that it is a “law-abiding corporate citizen.”)

Some speculators use questionable tactics to acquire property. When Jessica Wiggins’ uncle called her to say that a man was trying to buy his interest in their family’s land, she didn’t believe him; he had dementia. Then, in 2015, she learned that a company called Aldonia Farms had purchased the interests of four heirs, including her uncle, and had filed a partition action. “What got me was we had no knowledge of this person,” Wiggins told me, of the man who ran Aldonia. (Jonathan S. Phillips, who now runs Aldonia Farms, told me that he wasn’t there at the time of the purchase, and that he’s confident no one would have taken advantage of the uncle’s dementia.) Wiggins was devastated; the 18 acres of woods and farmland that held her great-grandmother’s house was the place that she had felt safest as a child. The remaining heirs still owned 61% of the property, but there was little that they could do to prevent a sale. When I visited the land with Wiggins, her great-grandmother’s house had been cleared, and Aldonia Farms had erected a gate. Phillips told me, “Our intention was not to keep them out but to be good stewards of the property and keep it from being littered on and vandalized.”

Last fall, Wiggins and her relatives gathered for the auction of the property on the courthouse steps in the town of Windsor. A bronze statue of a Confederate soldier stood behind them. Wiggins’ cousin Danita Pugh walked up to Aldonia Farms’ lawyer and pulled her deed out of an envelope. “You’re telling me that they’re going to auction it off after showing you a deed?” she said. “I’m going to come out and say it. The white man takes the land from the black.”

Hundreds of partition actions are filed in North Carolina every year. Carteret County, which has a population of 70,000, has one of the highest per-capita rates in the state. I read through every Carteret partition case concerning heirs’ property from the past decade, and found that 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. “The Southeast has these amazing natural resources: timber, land, great fishing,” she said. “If somebody could snap their fingers and clear up all these titles, how much richer would the region be?”

The white man takes the land from the black.”

Thomas W. Mitchell, a property-law professor at Texas A&M University School of Law, has drafted legislation aimed at reforming this system, which has now passed in 14 states. He told me that heirs’ property owners, particularly those who are African-American, tend to be “land rich and cash poor,” making it difficult for them to keep the land in a sale. “They don’t have the resources to make competitive bids, and they can’t even use their heirs’ property as collateral to get a loan to participate in the bidding more effectively,” he said. His law, the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act, gives family members the first option to buy, sends most sales to the open market, and mandates that courts, in their decisions to order sales, weigh non-economic factors, such as the consequences of eviction and whether the property has historic value. North Carolina is one of eight states in the South that has held out against these reforms. The state also hasn’t repealed the Torrens Act. It is one of fewer than a dozen states where the law is still on the books.

Last year, Congress passed the Agricultural Improvement Act, which, among other things, allows heirs’ property owners to apply for Department of Agriculture programs using nontraditional paperwork, such as a written agreement between heirs. “The alternative documentation is really, really important as a precedent,” Lorette Picciano, the executive director of Rural Coalition, a group that advocated for the reform, told me. “The next thing we need to do is make sure this happens with FEMA, and flood insurance, and housing programs.” The bill also includes a lending program for heirs’ property owners, which will make it easier for them to clear titles and develop succession plans. But no federal funding has been allocated for these loans.

“North Carolina is one of eight states in the South that has held out against these reforms.”

The first time I met Melvin and Licurtis in the Carteret jail, Melvin filled the entire frame of the visiting-room window. He is a forceful presence, and prone to exaggeration. His hair, neatly combed, was streaked with silver. He didn’t blink as he spoke. Licurtis had been given a diagnosis of diabetes, and leaned against a stool for support. He still acted like a younger brother, never interrupting Melvin or challenging his memory. He told me that, at night, he dreamed of the shore, of storms blowing through his house. “The water rising,” Licurtis said. “And I couldn’t do nothing about it.” He was worried about his mother. “If they took this land from my mama at her age, and she’d been farming it all her life, you know that would kill her,” he told me.

The brothers were seen as local heroes for resisting the court order. “They want to break your spirits,” their niece Kim Duhon wrote to them. “God had you both picked out for this.” Even strangers wrote. “When I was a kid, it used to sadden me that white folks had Radio Island, Atlantic Beach, Sea Gate and other places to swim, but we didn’t!” one letter from a local woman read. She wrote that, when she was finally taken to Silver Dollar Road, “I remember seeing nothing but my own kind (Blk Folks!).”

In North Carolina, civil contempt is most commonly used to force defendants to pay child support. When the ruling requires a defendant to pay money other than child support, a new hearing is held every 90 days. After the first 90 days had passed, Melvin asked a friend in jail to write a letter on his behalf. (Melvin couldn’t read well, and he needed help writing.) “I’ve spent 91 days on a 90 day sentence and I don’t understand why,” the letter read. “Please explain this to me! So I can go home, back to work. Sincerely, Melvin Davis.” The brothers learned that although Billie Dean Brown’s lawyer had asked for 90 days, the court had decided that there would be no time restriction on their case, and that they could be jailed until they presented evidence that they had removed their homes. They continued to hold out. Brown wasn’t demolishing their buildings while they were incarcerated, and so they believed that they still had a shot at convincing the courts that the land was theirs. That fall, Brown told the Charlotte Observer, “I made up my mind, I will die and burn in hell before I walk away from this thing.” When I reached Brown recently, he told me that he was in an impossible position. “We’ve had several offers from buyers, but once they learned of the situation they withdrew,” he said.

The brothers were seen as local heroes for resisting the court order.”

Three months turned into six, and a year turned into several. Jail began to take a toll on the brothers. The facility was designed for short stays, with no time outside, and nowhere to exercise. They couldn’t be transferred to a prison, because they hadn’t been convicted of a crime. Early on, Melvin mediated fights between inmates and persuaded them to sneak in hair ties for him. But over time he stopped taking care of his appearance and became withdrawn. He ranted about the stolen land, though he couldn’t quite nail down who the enemy was: Shade or Wheatly or Brown, the sheriffs or the courts or the county. The brothers slept head to head in neighboring beds. “Melvin would say crazy things,” Licurtis told me. “Lay on down and go to sleep, wake up, and say the same thing again. It wore me down.” Melvin is proud and guarded, but he told me that the case had broken him. “I’m not ashamed to own it,” he said. “This has messed my mind up.”

Without the brothers, Silver Dollar Road lost its pulse. Mamie kept her blinds down; she couldn’t stand to see the deserted waterfront. At night, she studied her brothers’ case, thumbing through the court files and printing out the definitions of words that she didn’t understand, like “rescind” and “contempt.” She filled a binder with relatives’ obituaries, so that once her brothers got out they would have a record of who had passed away. When Claud Wheatly’s father died, she added his obituary. “I kept him for history,” she told me.

Gertrude didn’t have the spirit to farm. Most days, she sat in a tangerine armchair by her window, cracking peanuts or watching the shore like a guard. This winter, we looked out in silence as Brown’s caretaker drove through the property. Melvin and Licurtis wouldn’t allow Gertrude to visit them in jail. Licurtis said that “it hurt so bad” to see her leave.

Other members of the family — Melvin and Licurtis’ brother Billy, their nephew Roderick and their cousin Shawn — kept trying to shrimp, but the river suddenly seemed barren. “It might sound crazy, but it was like the good Lord put a curse on this little creek, where ain’t nobody gonna catch no shrimp until they’re released,” Roderick told me. Billy added, “It didn’t feel right no more with Melvin and them not there, because we all looked out for one another. Some mornings, you didn’t even want to go.”

Sheriff’s deputies came to the property a few times a week, and they wouldn’t allow the men to dock their boats on the pier. One by one, the men lost hope and sold their trawlers. Shawn took a job at Best Buy, cleaning the store for $11.50 an hour, and eventually moved to Newport, 30 miles southwest, where it was easier to make rent. Billy got paid to fix roofs but soon defaulted on the mortgage for his house on Silver Dollar Road. “One day you good, and the next day you can’t believe it,” he told me.

Roderick kept being charged with trespassing, for walking on the waterfront, and he was racking up thousands of dollars in legal fees. He’d recently renovated his boat — putting in an aluminum gas tank, large spotlights and West Marine speakers — but, without a place to dock, he saw no way to hold on to it. He found work cutting grass and posted his boat on Craigslist. A white man responded. They met at the shore, and, as the man paid, Roderick began to cry. He walked up Silver Dollar Road with his back to the river. He told me, “I just didn’t want to see my boat leave.”

This has messed my mind up.”

The Reels brothers were locked in a hopeless clash with the law. One judge who heard their case likened them to the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” who attempts to guard his forest against King Arthur. “Even after King Arthur has cut off both of the Black Knight’s arms and legs, he still insists that he will continue to fight and that no one may pass — although he cannot do anything,” the judge wrote, in an appeals-court dissent.

In February, nearly eight years after Melvin and Licurtis went to jail, they stood before a judge in Carteret to request their release. They were now 72 and 61, but they remained defiant. Licurtis said that he would go back on the property “just as soon as I walk out of here.” Melvin said, “I believe that land is mine.” They had hired a new lawyer, who argued that it would cost almost $50,000 to tear down the brothers’ homes. Melvin had less than $4,000 in the bank; Licurtis had nothing. The judge announced that he was releasing them. He warned them, however, that if they returned to their homes they’d “be right back in jail.” He told them, “The jailhouse keys are in your pockets.”

An hour later, the brothers emerged from the sheriff’s department. Melvin surveyed the parking lot, which was crowded with friends and relatives. “About time!” he said, laughing and exchanging hugs. “You stuck with me.” When he spotted Little Melvin, who was now 39, he extended his arm for a handshake. Little Melvin pulled it closer and buried his face in his father’s shoulder, sobbing.

When Licurtis came out, he folded over, as if his breath had been pulled out of him. Mamie wrapped her arms around his neck, led him to her car, and drove him home. When they reached Silver Dollar Road, she honked the horn all the way down the street. “Back on Silver Dollar Road,” Licurtis said, pines flickering by his window. “Mm-mm-mm-mm-mm.”

Melvin spent his first afternoon shopping for silk shirts and brown leather shoes and a cell phone that talked to him. Old acquaintances stopped him — a man who thanked him for his advice about hauling dirt, a DJ who used to spin at Fantasy Island. While in jail, Melvin had been keeping up with his girlfriends, and 11 women called looking for him.

Melvin told me that he’d held on for his family, and for himself, too. But away from the others his weariness showed. He acknowledged that he was worried about what would happen, his voice almost a whisper. “They can’t keep on doing this. There’s got to be an ending somewhere,” he said.

A few days later, Gertrude threw her sons a party, and generations of relatives came. The family squeezed together on her armchairs, eating chili and biscuits and lemon pie. Mamie gave a speech. “We gotta get this water back,” she said, stretching her arms wide. “We gotta unite. A chain’s only as strong as the links in it.” The room answered, “That’s right.” The brothers, who were staying with their mother, kept saying, “Once we get this land stuff sorted out . . .” Relatives who had left talked about coming back, buying boats and go-karts for their kids. It was less a plan than a fantasy — an illusion that their sense of justice could overturn the decision of the law.

Pine trees by the shore.

The brothers hadn’t stepped onto the waterfront since they’d been back. The tract was 100 feet away but out of reach. Fantasy Island was a shell, the plot around it overgrown. Still, Melvin seemed convinced that he would restore it. “Put me some palm trees in the sand and build some picnic tables,” he said.

After the party wound down, I sat with Licurtis on his mother’s porch as he gazed at his house, which was moldy and gutted, its frame just visible in the purple dusk. He reminisced about the house’s wood-burning heater, the radio that he’d always left playing. He said that he planned to build a second story and raise the house to protect it from floods. He wanted a wraparound deck and big windows. “I’ll pour them walls solid all the way around,” he said. “We’ll bloom again. Ain’t going to be long.”

READ MORE AT: https://blackagendareport.com/why-are-so-many-black-families-losing-their-land

AU Ambassador Tells African Americans To ‘Come Home’ And Build

Written by Peter Pedroncelli Jul 05, 2019

AU ambassador
Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao is the African Union ambassador to the U.S. Photo – AU

Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, African Union ambassador to the U.S., has called on African Americans to “come home” and contribute to Africa’s growth and prosperity.

She was speaking to an audience of Black entrepreneurs at a Power Networking Conference in Houston, Texas and urged them to “wake up, organize, go home and take what is rightfully ours,” according to a YouTube video uploaded by Dr. Boyce Watkins, the CEO of The Black Business School.

Zimbabwe-born Dr. Chihombori-Quao is the permanent representative of the African Union Representational Mission to the U.S., according to the A.U.

A former medical doctor, she is the CEO and founder of Bell Family Medical Centers in the U.S. Before taking up her current position at the A.U. in 2017, she practiced medicine for 29 years in Tennessee.

A.U. ambassador calling Africa’s children home

Chihombori-Quao asked African Americans to return home to Africa with the skills and expertise to help build African economies.

“If the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area is going to succeed, it must include the children in the diaspora,” she said.

The Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement is a new pan-African trade zone proposed in March 2018 that aims to enable intra-Africa trade among the 55 countries in Africa, Fin24 reports.

Intra-African trade was worth about $170 billion in 2017, but accounts for only 15 percent of the continent’s trade, FT reports.

By comparison, intra-continental trade is at 67 percent in the European Union and 58 percent in Asia.

Designed to boost intra-Africa trade, the African Continental Free Trade Area, which came into effect at the end of May, aims to slash tariffs on 90 percent of goods across a market of 1.2 billion people, according to Moneyweek.

Contracts for massive construction projects are going to companies in China and Europe when they could be going to “the children of Africa” in the diaspora, Chihombori-Quao said.

“So while the rest of the world is strategizing about how to get into Africa, guess who is still sleeping like grasshoppers? Us, the children of Africa. I’m here to say, my brothers and sisters, we must wake up. We have got to wake up, organize and go home to take what is rightfully ours.”

She ended her address with a call for African Americans not to complain about Africa but contribute to change it.

“If we don’t organize in order for us to participate in the development of Africa, let’s not complain when the contract to build the Cape-to-Cairo highway goes to China. Let’s not complain when the highway from East Africa to West Africa goes to some European company,” Chihombori-Quao said.

Organized for almost two decades, the PowerNetworking Conference has gathered Black entrepreneurs looking to connect, grow and prosper with annual events held in Houston, Texas.

This year’s event took place between June 26-29. The dates for 2020 are not confirmed.

During a visit to Los Angeles on June 14, Ethiopian ambassador Fitsum Arega outlined the prospects for investors, companies, and entrepreneurs to engage with Africa’s second most populous country, according to the LosAngelesSentinel.

“Our new, reformist prime minister (Abiy Ahmed) welcomes U.S. businesses to do trade between the U.S. and Africa and the U.S. and Ethiopia. We encourage the Africa diaspora – African Americans – to do business and strengthen this link,” said Arega.

Manufacturing, telecommunications, power and solar energy and entertainment are areas ripe for investment, he said.

READ MORE AT: https://moguldom.com/211045/au-ambassador-tells-african-americans-to-come-home-and-build/

The birthplace of American slavery debated abolishing it after Nat Turner’s bloody revolt

By Gregory S. Schneider June 1

The first thing white people did after Nat Turner’s violent slave insurrection in 1831 was round up more than 120 black people and kill them.

But the next thing white people did was surprising.

Hundreds of them sent petitions to the Virginia General Assembly calling for an end to slavery.

Richmond’s newspapers argued fiercely in favor of abolition. President Thomas Jefferson’s grandson pushed a plan to free slaves and help them settle in the new African nation of Liberia. Even a leader of the militia that put down Turner’s rebellion called for a gradual end to slavery.

In other words, the insurrection almost worked. More than 50 white men, women and children had died in the bloodiest slave revolt on U.S. soil. It forced Virginians to confront the evil that was at the root of their society, and it just plain scared a lot of people. Thanks to public pressure, the General Assembly considered taking radical action.

But the votes fell short. Instead, lawmakers passed harsher laws that made African Americans’ lives even worse. They also aggravated divisions that erupted, 30 years later, in the Civil War.

This year, Virginia marks the origins of slavery in the English colonies. The first captured Africans arrived at Virginia’s Point Comfort in August 1619. The debates prompted by Turner’s insurrection were “the most public, focused, and sustained discussion of slavery and emancipation that ever occurred in . . . any . . . southern state,” historian Eva Sheppard Wolf wrote.

The sword that is believed to have been carried by Nat Turner during his insurrection. (Matt Mcclain/The Washington Post)

The process laid bare how deeply conflicted white Southerners were about the topic. There were slave owners who favored abolition and abolitionists who just wanted to get rid of black people. Petitions poured out from every corner of the state — about 40, signed by more than 2,000 people

In Charles City County, between Williamsburg and Richmond, a group of Quakers sent an eloquent plea for Virginia to remember the ideals that sparked the Revolution.

Slavery was “a system repugnant to the laws of God, and subversive of the rights, and destructive of the happiness of man,” the Quakers wrote. “We, therefore, solemnly believe that some efficient system for the abolition of slavery in the Commonwealth and restoration of the African race to the inalienable rights of man is imperiously demanded by the laws of God, and inseparably connected with the best interests of the Commonwealth at large.”

In Loudoun County, a group of women wrote that they were afraid for their safety. They called for a gradual end to slavery but also the removal of all blacks from Virginia, free and enslaved. A group in Buckingham County wanted an end to slavery out of fear that blacks would soon outnumber whites.

About 30 of the petitions aimed to get all people of color out of Virginia, Root found as he researched his dissertation on the subject. But not all of them wanted to end slavery; several called for purging the state of free blacks so that enslaved workers wouldn’t be influenced by them. Root found most of the petitions in newspaper coverage and compiled them in a book titled “Sons of the Fathers.”

The sentiments were so strong and so numerous that the General Assembly appointed a select committee to consider them. Proslavery legislators fought to keep the committee from taking up the issue of abolition and, in particular, tried to stop the Quaker petition from getting a hearing.

But the House of Delegates voted 93 to 27 to refer the Quaker petition to the committee. And for two weeks in January 1832, the Virginia legislature toyed with the idea of abolishing slavery and emancipating people of African descent.

Thomas Jefferson Randolph, a delegate from Albemarle County, invoked his famous grandfather in calling for a plan to resettle freed slaves in Liberia. The third president, of course, had been shamefully contradictory on the subject. His first act as a young Virginia delegate had been to seek an end to slavery, but he later wrote in his “Notes on the State of Virginia” that blacks were an inferior race. Jefferson also wrote that blacks had been degraded by their treatment by whites. While he maintained in letters that slavery was wrong, he deferred action to future generations.

Randolph proposed letting the people of Virginia (well, the white males) vote on whether to consider abolition. His plan called for a gradual emancipation; the first slaves wouldn’t go free until 1858. But as Wolf noted in her book “Race and Liberty in the New Nation,” the emancipation would begin on July 4, a proposal that “unmistakably recalled Virginians’ attachment to the ideal of universal liberty and the glowing words of Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.

One Jeffersonian sentiment that carried power during the 1832 debates was the idea that bondage corrupted master and slave alike. Many of the calls to end slavery argued that it had weakened the work ethic among whites and that it hamstrung Virginia’s economy.

William Brodnax, a delegate from Dinwiddie County who led the militia that put down Turner’s rebellion, owned more than 100 slaves but argued to the Assembly that the institution had caused “the decay of our prosperity, and the retrograde movement of this once flourishing Commonwealth.”

Brodnax submitted a detailed plan for abolition and resettlement. He would have charged a tax of 30 cents per white person and used the proceeds to relocate 6,000 free and formerly enslaved black people from Virginia every year. He calculated that “in less than 80 years there would not be left a single slave or free negro in all Virginia.”

As racist as the Randolph and Brodnax plans were, they were benign compared with the rhetoric that flowed from the other side. The revolutionary ideals of freedom and equality that flowered in Virginia had become twisted and gnarled.

William Roane, a delegate from Hanover County and the grandson of Patrick Henry, argued that slavery was an inescapable fact of human society. “I think slavery [is] as much a correlative of liberty as cold is of heat,” he said. Or if that’s not stark enough for you: “The torch of liberty has ever burnt brightest when surrounded by the dark and filthy, yet nutritious atmosphere of slavery.”

Root said that kind of sentiment was what drew him to study the Virginia debates. “I was looking at the drift from the American founders, the drift from the Declaration,” he said. “And, in Virginia in this one moment, you had a prime chance to do something that may have staved off the Civil War.”

But this was not the founding generation of Virginia leaders. Slave owners from Tidewater held most of the power in the legislature. West of the Blue Ridge Mountains, whites were much more indifferent toward or even opposed to slavery — leading to the eventual separation of West Virginia during the Civil War.

Instead of rising to the founding principles of freedom for all, Virginia’s lawmakers stooped to a new idea of slavery as a positive good. Thomas Dew, who at the time was a professor at the College of William & Mary, wrote an essay called “Review of the Debate in the Virginia Legislature,” arguing that blacks and whites could never live together, that slavery was just part of human existence and that everyone was better off because of it.

Over the next 30 years, his essay became a major underpinning of the case for secession.

Ultimately, the General Assembly passed a resolution that was impotent with compromise. While it acknowledged “the great evils arising from the condition of the coloured population of this commonwealth,” it concluded that it was “inexpedient for the present, to make any legislative enactments for the abolition of slavery.”

Having come so close and failed, the legislature followed up by passing a slate of harsh restrictions on people of color, free and enslaved. They cracked down, for example, against preaching, gathering to worship and learning to read.

The outcome managed to “put Revolutionary-era dreams of a free Virginia firmly in the past,” Wolf wrote.

With that passing, of course, the way was cleared for Virginia’s role as the capital of the Confederacy.

In Southampton County, where Nat Turner carried out his rebellion, generations of residents have struggled with how to regard the bloody chapter of their history. Rick Francis, who is white and who lost several ancestors to Turner’s men, said it’s important to remember the impact of the rebellion. That gives him a sense of pride mixed with tragedy.

“Insurrection got it close, got it tight, but nobody could carry it across the finish line and end slavery,” Francis said. “We became in tune with the hardcore slave states from that point on. And we lost our opportunity to end slavery. But the insurrection got us to a point closer than we’d ever been before.”

READ MORE AT: https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/06/01/birthplace-american-slavery-debated-abolishing-it-after-nat-turners-bloody-revolt/?utm_term=.f0a779da64f1

The Nation’s Top Black-Owned Financial Services 2019 Revealed

by  Selena Hill
June 26, 2019

The BE financial services companies include the largest black banks, investment banks, asset managers, and private equity firms. These companies manage trillions of assets as they diversify the capital markets and serve the needs of individual and institutional clients from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.

RANKCOMPANIESREVENUES ($M)
1OneUnited Bank656.198
2Liberty Bank and Trust Co.591.541
3Carver Bancorp Inc. (Carver Federal Savings Bank) *590.000
4Industrial Bank433.851
5Citizens Bancshares Corp. (Citizens Trust Bank) *411.073
6Broadway Financial Corp. (Broadway Federal Bank) *407.170
7Harbor Bankshares Corp. (The Harbor Bank of Maryland)282.599
8First Independence Bank257.244
9M&F Bancorp Inc. (Mechanics & Farmers Bank)257.200
10City National Bank of New Jersey167.570
11GN Bank**139.902
12Citizens Savings Bank & Trust Co.103.080
13Unity National Bank93.832
14Tri-State Bank of Memphis82.336
15Commonwealth National Bank47.261

READ MORE AT: https://www.blackenterprise.com/be100s/financialservices/

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About the BE 100s Listing of the Largest Black-Owned Businesses

by  Selena Hill
June 26, 2019

From technology and manufacturing to food services and media, these companies represent the revenue and employment leaders of black business as well as its greatest innovators. Top 100 companies have also demonstrated economic impact by producing more than $25 billion in revenues and employed more than 70,000 workers.

FULL LIST

RANKCOMPANIESREVENUES ($M)
1World Wide Technology Inc.11,287.419
2Act 1 Group2,800.000
3Bridgewater Interiors L.L.C.1,969.340
4Coca-Cola Beverages Florida L.L.C.1,310.000
5Modular Assembly Innovations L.L.C.1,042.690
6Bridgeman Foods *870.000
7Thompson Hospitality Corp.760.000
8The Anderson-DuBose Co.702.856
9Urban One Inc.**440.041
10Hightowers Petroleum Co.434.265
11Fair Oaks Farms L.L.C.342.000
12Millennium Steel Service L.L.C.311.842
13Global Automotive Alliance Corp.274.800
14Millennium Steel of Texas266.023
15Adams Communication & Engineering Technology Inc.253.000
16Baldwin Richardson Foods Co.252.000
17Bird Electric237.890
18Georgetown Metal Processing L.L.C.235.000
19Devon Industrial Group L.L.C.234.000
20Salamander Hotels & Resorts212.727
21Harris & Ford L.L.C.206.000
22Health Resources Inc.204.283
23Trillion Communications Corp.191.000
24Diversant L.L.C.190.000
25H. J. Russell & Co.178.151
26Blue Spring Metals L.L.C.173.000
27Jackmont Hospitality Inc.165.900
28Sun State International Trucks L.L.C.148.500
29Chemico L.L.C.146.000
30James Group International Inc.138.000
31Systems Electro Coating L.L.C.131.175
32Powers & Sons Construction Co. Inc.118.070
33Advantage Living Centers***114.000
34PRWT Services Inc.108.747
35K. Neal Truck & Bus Center****103.500
36The Lewis Group L.L.P.101.858
37Epitec Inc.98.100
38Systems Automotive Interiors L.L.C.97.025
39Summus Industries Inc.96.910
40New Horizon Baking Co.†96.540
41MINACT Inc.94.569
42Mays Chemical Co. Inc.92.700
43Diversity Vuteq92.000
44V & J Holding Cos. Inc.89.000
45Engineering Design Technologies Inc.86.759
46Raven Transport Co. Inc.83.677
47All American Meats Inc.81.220
48Beauchamp Distributing Co.80.809
49Systems Application and Technologies Inc. (SA-TECH)79.000
50Neta Scientific Inc.76.625
51IMB Development Corp.76.000
52Harpo Inc.72.000
53Tolston Holding L.L.C69.450
54Arcade Travel Inc. ††69.287
55Parrish Restaurants Ltd.67.226
56Overland-Tandberg67.000
56The Client Base Funding Group Inc.†††67.000
58UJAMAA Construction Inc.65.000
59Benton-Georgia L.L.C.63.000
60Rocket Lawyer60.000
61C. D. Moody Construction Co. Inc.58.000
62MCLJASCO Inc. 52.336
63Frontier Development & Hospitality Group LLC51.000
64McKissack & McKissack50.000
64The Will Group50.000
66IAP Government Services Group/IAP Design Build L.L.C.††††46.000
67Oakland Consulting Group Inc.42.693
68TME Enterprises 1 Ltd.‡40.779
69w3r Consulting40.000
70Advanced Systems Development Inc.37.538
71General Microsystems Inc.36.800
72B & S Electric Supply Co. Inc.35.483
73Keystone Electrical Manufacturing Co.35.200
74Howard Stirk Holdings35.000
75Rickman Enterprise Group L.L.C.34.000
76Golden Krust Franchising Inc.‡‡ 32.702
77Brodie Contractors Inc.31.000
78TAG Holdings L.L.C.30.874
79JMA Solutions L.L.C.30.000
80TW Constructors L.L.C.28.900
81New England Greens L.L.C.‡‡‡24.300
82ChaseSource L.P.23.000
83Signature Packaging and Paper L.L.C.21.658
84Logistics Systems Inc.21.384
85DigiFlight Inc.20.970
86
TD4 Electrical L.L.C.
20.213
87Premier Management Corp.20.000
88Networking Technologies + Support17.279
89Bithgroup Technologies15.000
89Black Enterprise15.000
89Banneker Ventures L.L.C.15.000
92BCT Partners L.L.C.13.650
93Aire Sheet Metal Inc.12.100
94Mosaic Global Transportation Inc.11.474
95Skyline Industries LLC8.000
96Nursez R us 7.000
97The Roberts Cos.6.800
98Sudu Logistics Inc.5.800
99Cerulean Global Services L.L.C.5.000
100Castle Black Construction4.700

READ MORE AT: https://www.blackenterprise.com/be100s/top100/

The Storied History of the Black Press: ‘The Pillars of Black America’s Struggle for Justice’

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent, @StacyBrownMedia

Since the founding of the Black Press 192 years ago, African American-owned newspapers have served their communities in ways that no other publications have.

Historically, these publications have operated on “shoe-string” budgets, are usually understaffed, and also face other severe limitations. Yet, the Black Press always has maintained its mission as the voice of Black America.

That tradition has held true through many transitions and has continued during the 79-year history of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA). The NNPA is the trade organization representing America’s Black-owned newspapers and media companies. The organization’s members serve millions of readers that rely on the Black Press to provide content not regularly found in other media.

For many, the Black Press is just as essential to the culture of the community as the Black church.

“It is undeniable that the Black church and the Black Press have been, and continue to be, the foundational pillars of Black America’s long struggle for freedom, justice, equality and empowerment,” said NNPA President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.

“We know first-hand the power of the pen and we remain committed to helping to ensure and to mentor the next generation of freedom-fighting publishers, editors and journalists,” Chavis said.

On March 16, 1827, The Rev. Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm made history by publishing “Freedom’s Journal,” the nation’s first Black newspaper.

NNPA Chairman Dorothy R. Leavell, who publishes the Chicago and Gary Crusader newspapers, has often described “Freedom’s Journal” as courageous and she regularly cites the newspaper’s motto as one that remains a focus of the Black Press today.

“We wish to tell our own story,” Leavell said, quoting Russwurm and Cornish’s mission that, “for too long others have spoken for us, but we wish to tell our own story.”

Circulated in 11 states and in Europe, Canada and Haiti, “Freedom’s Journal” provided international, national and local details pertinent to the Black community. They denounced slavery and lynching and, among the many features that endeared the newspaper to its readers, were African American community-based marriage, birth and death announcements.

Soon, other Black-owned papers like the Savannah Tribune, The Afro-American in Baltimore, the Indianapolis Recorder, and The Philadelphia Tribune began publishing.

Those newspapers and others, like the Pittsburgh Courier, the New Journal and Guide in Virginia, and The Kansas City Call, have maintained the tradition and continue to deliver news and insights today.

The NNPA honors the history and legacy of the Black Press via The Black Press Archives and Gallery of Distinguished Publishers at Howard University.

Each year during Black Press Week in Washington, DC, a NNPA member is posthumously enshrined in the Archives and Gallery.

“It’s so important we remember our past and remember those whose shoulders we stand upon,” Chavis said.

As community-focused publishers, the news that appears in NNPA’s member publications affects the day-to-day lives of their readership. For example, in Dallas, Texas, where voters recently elected a new mayor, U.S. congressman and Dallas County District Attorney.

For many in Dallas’ African American community, these much-needed changes were underscored through the resilient coverage of the city’s Black-owned North Dallas Gazette, which for decades has provided some of the most in-depth coverage of local elections for a publication of its size.

“We regularly inform our readers on the bills and positions offered by our new congressman and last year, we featured several stories on criminal justice and bail reform,” said the paper’s publisher Thurman Jones.

Since its first issue nearly 50 years ago, the South Florida-based Westside Gazette has maintained the high level of professional, insightful and reader-sensitive reporting that has gained the trust and respect of South Florida’s African American community.

Two of its signature events – “Sweet Potato Pie, Politics and Ice Cream,” and “The White Hat Gala,” – have proven a hit throughout the Sunshine State.

“The ‘Sweet Potato Pie, Politics and Ice Cream’ event is where our politicians come out and actually serve the audience sweet potato pie and ice cream,” said Westside Gazette publisher, Bobby Henry.

“It’s really unique and it gives an opportunity for an intimate formal discussion with those who are vying for political position,” he said.

The “White Hat Gala,” counts as a fundraiser for Sickle Cell Disease.

The Toledo Journal Newspaper in Toledo, Ohio, has been publishing since 1975 and, like the content found throughout its pages, its slogan is an attention-grabber: “Everybody is Somebody in The Toledo Journal.”

“This has made a difference in making our Black community feel important,” said the newspaper’s publisher, Sandra S. Stewart.

“Over the years, we have had an impact in the areas of business, political, social, recreational, religious, and sports, in our community. So, our readers believe in us and know we are fair to our community,” she said.

The impact of the legacy, history and challenges met and overcome by members of the Black Press has not been lost on or squandered by today’s NNPA members. While the Black Press has expanded to include cities and communities throughout the country, including New York, Washington, South Carolina, New Orleans, St. Louis, Chicago, Texas, and California, member publishers have continued to live up to the civil rights mantra of “Soldiers without Swords.”

READ MORES AT: https://www.afro.com/the-storied-history-of-the-black-press-the-pillars-of-black-americas-struggle-for-justice/

Pentagon Admitted to Using Black Soldiers as Human Guinea Pigs in WWII

By David Love – June 24, 2015

Pentagon Guinea pigs

Black enlisted men were used as human guinea pigs in chemical experiments during World War II—not by Nazi Germany, but by Uncle Sam.

As was reported by NPR, 60,000 American soldiers were enrolled in a secret chemical weapons testing program in which they were exposed to mustard gas and the chemical agent lewisite, which causes lung irritation and blisters. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Defense conducted the tests based on the race of the soldiers. Black, Japanese-American and Puerto Rican soldiers were locked in a gas chamber and exposed to the chemicals. White soldiers were used as the control group.

“They said we were being tested to see what effect these gases would have on Black skins,” said Rollins Edwards, 93, of Summerville, S.C. “You had no choice. You did not know where you were going. They didn’t tell you anything.”

Edwards says his skin still falls off in flakes as a result of the testing. For years, the World War II veteran carried around a jar full of flakes to convince people that something had happened to him.

Although the Pentagon had admitted as early as 1991 that the Army tested mustard gas on enlisted soldiers during World War II—and the experiment program was officially declassified in 1993—news about the racial targeting of soldiers was kept under wraps until recently.

This revelation that the Army tested chemical weapons on soldiers of color is both troubling and an outrage, but the concept of Black people being used in medical and other experiments is by no means a new phenomenon. There are numerous examples of Black people being used as guinea pigs in unethical medical experiments. Perhaps the most well-known example is the Tuskegee experiment, in which the Tuskegee Institute and the U.S. Public Health Service studied the natural progression of syphilis in 600 Black men, who were never notified of their condition and were not treated. The tests, which began in 1932, did not end until news reports exposed the inhumane and racist practice in 1972.

But there are other cases beyond Tuskegee. For example, in the early 1800s, Sara Baartman, or “Hottentot Venus,” one of two KhoiKhoi women made into freak show attractions in Europe, was subjected to medical experiments. And modern gynecology was the result of torturous gynecological experiments that J. Marion Sims performed on enslaved women without anesthesia.

Rollins Edwards, who lives in Summerville, S.C., shows one of his many scars from exposure to mustard gas in World War II military experiments. More than 70 years after the exposure, his skin still falls off in flakes. For years, he carried around a jar full of the flakes to try to convince people of what happened to him. Source: AMELIA PHILLIPS HALE FOR NPR
Rollins Edwards, who lives in Summerville, S.C., shows one of his many scars from exposure to mustard gas in World War II military experiments. More than 70 years after the exposure, his skin still falls off in flakes. For years, he carried around a jar full of the flakes to try to convince people of what happened to him. Source: AMELIA PHILLIPS HALE FOR NPR

At the turn of the century, the U.S. Public Health Service conducted experiments on Black prisoners suffering from pellagra, which is a B-13 or niacin deficiency leading to sensitivity to sunlight skin lesions, dementia and death. In 1945, 53-year-old truck driver, Ebb Cabe, was injected with plutonium by the U.S. Atomic Agency after he was taken to the hospital and kept there for six months following a car accident. Cabe received 40 times the amount of plutonium—the key ingredient for a nuclear bomb—a typical person is exposed to over the course of a lifetime. He died eight years later of heart failure.

During the 1950s, the CIA and the U.S. military released half a million mosquitoes with yellow and dengue fever into Black Florida communities, leading to multiple illnesses and deaths. The government wanted to assess the use of mosquitoes as military weapons. Also in that decade, Henrietta Lacks became the first test subject on cloning, without her knowledge or permission, with 20 tons of her cells grown since her death.

During the 1950s and 1960s, poor Black St. Louis neighborhoods were used in Cold War experiments in which the Army, using aerosol blowers mounted on vehicles and rooftops, sprayed a radiation-laced toxin called zinc cadmium sulfide, a fluorescent powder. Thousands likely inhaled the toxins.

In the 1990s, children in Los Angeles were injected with an experimental measles vaccine unapproved by the FDA, and one which had developed a bad reputation for increasing high death rates in Haiti, Guinea Bissau and Senegal.

Between 2006 and 2010, 148 female prisoners in two California prisons—the majority Black and Latino— were sterilized without their consent. Meanwhile, Israel subjected African immigrant women to mandatory contraceptive injections of Depo-Provera, leading to a 20 percent birth rate decline for Ethiopian Israelis.

In 2000, federally funded researchers placed sludge from a sewage treatment plant on lawns and vacant lots in Baltimore and East St. Louis. The communities were told the toxic waste was safe. And in 2012, at least 500 children in Chad were given MenAfriVac—whose side effects include convulsions and paralysis— without notification or parental consent.

Rollins Edwards as a young soldier in 1945 at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Source: AMELIA PHILLIPS HALE FOR NPR
Rollins Edwards as a young soldier in 1945 at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Source: AMELIA PHILLIPS HALE FOR NPR

In addition, the CDC hid evidence that Black babies had more than triple the chance of developing autism if they were given an experimental measles vaccine before the age of three.

For years, the Black community has warned of conspiracies against their communities, and were told they were neurotic and imagining things. But as the latest news from the Pentagon shows us, these conspiracies are not theories but reality.

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