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Abstract

The pattern of landownership in the rural African American community represents the mirror opposite of the trend in black land acquisition 100 years ago at the dawn of the twentieth century. Remarkable levels of acquisition have been replaced by extraordinary levels of land loss in the past half-century or so. Today, African American farm owner-operators on little more than 2 million acres of land in the United States. Land loss in rural African American communities far exceeds farmland lost by white farmers. Even American Indian landowners-a group whose current land base represents but a fraction of its ancestral landholdings-have fared better than rural African American landowners over the past 50 to 60 years. This paper focuses on one of the primary causes of involuntary black land loss in recent times-partition sales of black-owned land held under tenancies in common. Our society has a clear moral obligation to reverse the processes that have stripped black landowners of their land. This paper advocates government intervention to promote enhanced landownership-both quantitatively and qualitatively-for African Americans. This paper maintains that the problem of fractionated heir property within the rural, African American community justifies more fundamental reform of common property law and the creation of government institutions that would have the capacity to help those who own heir property restructure their ownership in a way that the ownership could be stabilized and the property could be used productively.

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