Does your family own heir property down south?

At a Black/Land presentation in Ann Arbor tonight, someone asked if I had read Lorene Carey’s novel If Sons, Then Heirs. This wonderful novel tells the story of how a family from South Carolina fought for four generations to acquire, protect, and hand down “heir property”.

Heirs’ property is a West African relationship to land that is still widely present among Gullah people in the Carolinas and throughout the Deep South. Instead of being portioned out by a will, family property is handed down undivided to all of the descendants, or “heirs” of the original owner, and to their descendants as well. All of those generations are collectively responsible for maintaining the land, and the histories that land holds. Heir property assumes that no one person can “own” land and makes the right to land collective; it also assumes that land can own you. Some people see heir property as a problem: it leads black families to lose land to tax sales, or to family members who want to divide up the property for sale.

Do you own heirs’ property? Does your family have stories about “land down south” left by an ancestor? Is this land important to you? Do you think that heir property is a good way for African-Americans to maintain cultural and family ties? Or is it just another way for African-Americans to lose their land through tax foreclosures and partition salesLeave us a comment to join this conversation.