Taking back what was stolen is the relentless mission of one group to help Black Americans reclaim ancestral land.
For decades, Black families in the U.S. have been encumbered by the reality of land they’ve bought or inherited being seized under the legal guise of eminent domain — a law that essentially gives the government the right to acquire private property for public use in return for compensation, albeit, inequitably, for many Blacks who were compelled to hand over the land for less than its actual value.
Reclaiming Black Land
Where is My Land, a California-based advocacy group to assist Black Americans in their quest to retrieve stolen land, was birthed after co-founder Kavon Ward read in a local newspaper about a once-thriving beach resort that was Black-owned and Black-operated was seized in 1924 by the town of Manhattan Beach.
“I was disgusted, and I’m like, ‘This is the community where I live right now,’ ” she said.
The world would come to know the Bruce family as the rightful owners of the oceanfront property that was named Bruce’s Beach back in 1912. With lobbying and advocacy efforts by Ward and her co-founder, Ashanti Martin, the land was finally returned to the descendants in a unanimous vote by Los Angeles County in what officials described as an action to “right the wrongs of the past,” according to The New York Times.
Where is My Land’s Plan
Where is My Land, founded in July 2021, has used a three-pronged approach in helping families recover their land. Through advocacy, research and technology, the organization has been able to unearth documents and deeds to transfer land ownership back to Black families.
Although the movement is in its infancy, the group is regularly flooded with requests. Nearly 500 families have contacted the organization since last summer. But with a three-member team, “we can’t go as fast as people are expecting us to unless they want to donate millions of dollars,” Ward said in an interview for Cal Matters.
Costs for services can range from $35 for a consulting session to slightly over $3,000 for a full package of services. The services include: documentation review, documentation search, aid with developing an advocacy strategy, social media campaign prep, liaison between press and client, and press release creation.
Eminent Domain Abuse
Civil rights advocates have sounded the alarm on eminent domain abuse, arguing local governments and municipalities have preyed upon Black and brown communities — acquiring land by listing them as “blighted” properties and replacing them with commercial developments or homes for wealthier families. Urban renewal projects spurred on by local governments undoubtedly resulted in the destitution of Black families and communities, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy wrote in its blog.
Anti-discrimination laws for housing were enacted to dismantle redlining in the 1960s, but it accelerated the decline of infrastructure and disinvestment in communities of color that only fueled the political power wielding of eminent domain to annex land for people of color in exchange for profits.
Where Is My Land staff are aware of the uphill battle they face as more ground is gained to assist Black Americans like Beverly Moore with getting financial restitution more than two decades after her mother’s house was demolished in Richmond, California, in 1993 to make room for a drainage system.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all model for any of it,” Ward said to Cal Matters. “A lot of it is case-by-case strategy.