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Racial Discrimination and Land Ownership

The discrimination in rural property ownership, which has a long historical foundation based not only on black slavery but also on the post-slavery era, excludes many Africans from owning land. The absence of legal documentation supporting land ownership is another reason they are denied landholdings. After the Civil War, under the Homestead Act, the state distributed over twenty million acres, mainly in the South, resulting in the land ownership of untold millions of Africans. General William Sherman of the Union gave formerly enslaved people a mule and forty acres three years afterward. Black landownership decreased rapidly from 14% in the 1920s to 1.3% across the country. As a result, this essay will explore how racial discrimination and a lack of legal documentation prevent many Africans from owning land.

The lack of required papers and records is crucial since they prevented Africans from accessing equitable resources and programs that could have helped them secure land and ensure that it stayed in the family. Many recently liberated slaves missed the identification-proving documents they needed, like birth certificates. This is because when these Africans were released, they were granted citizenship with similar names as that of their masters (Minkoff-Zern, 2019). Another problem was that most formerly enslaved people and their ancestors had no recourse to legal services, making it impossible for them to create wills that accurately transfer land ownership and title deeds (Horst & Marion, 2019). If the property were not expressly bequeathed to a particular individual or group of individuals, it would transfer to all of the following heirs. They would be free to trade their individual parcels of property without alerting the other heirs.

Heirs’ property is another reason for land ownership exclusion because the first generation of blacks transferred their ownership rights through informal transfers. Over the years, the land ownership has changed, while the original title deed depicts the first owner’s name. Proving the ownership now is difficult because resolving the issue through changing the title deed names is costly, complicated, and strenuous. When a title needs to be cleared, extensive document investigations, land surveys, and genealogy research are necessary (Horst & Marion, 2019). A lawyer’s assistance is frequently required to navigate such complications, and finding one who focuses on estate and successors’ property matters isn’t easy. Many lawyers avoid handling successors’ property situations because they can be time-consuming. Even after overcoming all of those obstacles, triumph is not guaranteed. Any successor may object to the process, resulting in a forced sale of the property below market price.

The third justification is the exclusion from property ownership activities encouraged by discriminatory actions. Several regulations that limit land ownership to skilled, white farmers and bar persons of colour from land ownership in some jurisdictions drive some of these activities. Even today, those without ownership documentation are not eligible for disaster assistance, farming financing, or security from bankruptcy (Horst & Marion, 2019). Predatory investors may purchase the stake of one successor and compel the auction of property in court by using legal loopholes. The land Africans lost due to exclusion from property ownership during the 20th century was frequently taken by force and not voluntarily sold.

In conclusion, excluding people from land ownership has been difficult since it encourages prejudice. The primary causes of Africans’ exclusion from property ownership include an absence of official documents and other legal papers, access to the judicial system, discriminatory federal laws, and financial loans. Nevertheless, despite these numerous obstacles, some individuals have been able to hold onto their landholdings throughout the previous century.


Horst, M., & Marion, A. (2019). Racial, ethnic, and gender inequities in farmland ownership and farming in the US. Agriculture and Human Values, 36(1), 1-16.

Minkoff-Zern, L. A. (2019). The new American farmer: immigration, race, and the struggle for sustainability. MIT Press.


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