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Pew Trusts

RACIAL JUSTICE PUSH CREATES MOMENTUM TO PROTECT BLACK-OWNED LAND. In May, three sisters in Chicago got a surprise phone call: They owned 35 acres in Mississippi with a stand of mature timber worth more than $40,000. “They’d never been to Louisville, Mississippi, so they had no idea they owned property,” recalled Frank Taylor, leader of the Winston County Self Help Cooperative in Mississippi, who called the sisters….

Many of the landowners that the group contacts inherited heirs’ property, a form of ownership created when people die without a will and their heirs share a claim to the estate. Many are Black families who in the 1800s and early 1900s might have had neither the means nor, often, the freedom to secure land titles or draw up wills. This year, Mississippi and three other states passed laws that provide protections for people who inherit such property.

As more states follow, lawyers and advocates say the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with federal provisions in the 2018 farm bill, have sparked even greater interest in succession planning among rural landowners.

The changes are happening against the backdrop of a broader national awakening to racial injustice, even in agricultural spaces. Black-owned land with active farm operations has decreased roughly 85% over the past century. About 95% of farmers are White.

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