200 attend National Heirs Property Conference in Atlanta

Members of opening panel to provide history and context of the problems of Heir Property among Black landowners and families. R to L: Jerry Pennick, Attorney Faya Rose Toure, Charles O. Prejean, Wendell H. Paris and John Zippert

Special to the Democrat by John Zippert, Co-Publisher
Over 200 interested participants attended the first National Heirs Property Conference in Atlanta, Georgia at the Airport Embassy Suites Hotel from December 4-6, 2019. The conference was co-sponsored by the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, the nation’s foremost organization of Black farmers and landowners.
The two-day conference was divided into two tracks, one for landowners with heir property issues and one for community-based practioners working on land issues, government agency staff, lawyers and other professionals.
Heir property is land that is held in common by a number of family owners, when the original owners die without making a will and describing the way the land is to be passed down. More than half of the 3 million acres of farmland owned by Black families in the South is now owned in this way. Agricultural economists and other academic and professional experts suggest that this is a $2 billion problem facing the Black community in the South.
The greatest problems with heir property come when there are family disputes on the best use of the land. In some cases, a family member may sell their undivided interest to someone outside the family, allowing that person to petition the courts for a “partition sale.”
The courts will order a public sale on the courthouse steps, which often results in the sale and loss of the land to the family for less than its true value.
Heirs property and partition sales have contributed to the loss of Black land ownership in the South from 15 million acres in 1920 to 6 million in 1960 and now 3 million in 2019. Since the Civil Rights Movement, heirs property and partition sales have led to the loss of over 2 million acres of Black owned land in the South.
The owners of heir property also have problems accessing commercial bank loans and Federal USDA credit, conservation and other programs because they cannot show clear title for purposes of leveraging the land for loans and program services. The Federation working with other organizations was able to enact changes in the 2018 Farm Bill which provide a path and alternative forms of documentation to provide access to USDA programs and resources for families with land in heir property status.
The 2018 Farm Bill also includes authorization of a $10 million a year program of relending to community based organizations to provide loan assistance to families who need financial help to clear titles and use their land in the most suitable and productive ways.
Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director of the Federation and Attorney Monica Rainge, Director of the Federation’s Land Retention Program convened the program and discussed the importance of the issue of heir property to the continuing community and cooperative development goals of the Federation. They also showed a video from Senator Doug Jones of Alabama, who championed getting the section providing assistance to heir property landholders into the Federal legislation.
Cornelius Blanding introduces the opening panel and had a dialogue with them on the context, history and implications of the heir property land issue on Black families.
Attorney Faya Rose Toure (Sanders) of Selma, who conducted a seminal heir property study for USDA in the 1980’s spoke on the significance of the loss of Black land coming out of slavery. She spoke on the need to curtail petition sales and deal with the root causes of the problem in racism and White Supremacy.
She said she hoped the conference would look at “land reparations” as one of the solutions to the broader problems of Black land loss and wealth inequality in the country.
Charles O. Prejean, first Executive Director of the Federation, who lives in Atlanta, spoke about the Federation’s long term view of the helping people to hold on to their land and develop cooperatives as a way of using it for beneficial progress and community betterment. He spoke to the history of the Federation’s merger with the Emergency Land Fund in 1985 to further these common agendas.Wendell H. Paris, who was the Federation’s first staff member to live and work on the land in Epes, Alabama, reminded everyone, “That land is the basis of all wealth.” He spoke about some of the Federation’s early history in dealing with land retention.
Jerry Pennick, who helped start the Emergency Land Fund and worked for many years after the 1985 merger as Director of Land Retention commented on his work with Rose on the heirs property land study. He observed that the USDA has been very slow to respond meaningfully to this problem and hoped that the government will move more swiftly to implement the new provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill.
John Zippert, who retired after fifty years of work with the Federation, highlighted the work of the Federation with the Panola Land Buying Association (PLBA) in saving 1300 acres of land in Sumter County, Alabama, where the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center is located.
The second day’s plenary session featured a talk by Gary Black, Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture, on the importance of land ownership and agricultural and forestry development to the state,
The remainder of the two-day meeting was spent in parallel tracks. The more than 100 landowners present were in Track 1, dealing with the problems and issues of heir property, how to develop a family tree to account for all of the heirs, the Uniform Heir Property Petition Act, a uniform piece of state legislation adopted by 13 states, which assists heir property owners clarify title and basics of a succession plan. On the second day, landowners heard various strategies to help utilize their land in the most productive and profitable ways.
In the estate planning section of the workshop, landowners were introduced to the idea of forming a family trust, corporation, LLC or other means to own the land in a legal structure that separates the ownership from the individuals but allows for collective and democratic decisions about its use and benefits for the family. The Federation is working with many families to institute these progressive solutions to the problems of heir property.
The community-based practioners examined many of these same issues in their parallel track and discussed ways to marshal resources too assist landowners with these problems.
At the evaluation session at the end of the program, many of the landowners expressed appreciation for the information and learning provided by the Conference. Several participants expressed that they were leaving with hope that they could work on and help to resolve their family heir property problems.
Attorney Monica Rainge, Conference Coordinator said, “This is the beginning, not the end of this process. This Conference was to give you some suggestions and a direction, for you to return home and work on your heir property issues. The Federation is ready to continue working with you and help you find options and solutions. We will be planning future conferences and events about this problem.

Rally held in Columbiana, on the sixth anniversary of the Shelby vs. Holder Supreme Court decision invalidating critical parts of the Voting Rights Act

Press conference after Rally

A hundred people gathered on the lawn of the Shelby County Courthouse in Columbiana, Alabama on June 25, 2019, the sixth anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Shelby vs. Holder to protest and call for renewal of the Voting Rights Act.
The protest in Columbiana was part of a series of national events, coordinated by “Lift Our Vote 2020”, to restore the preclearance and other provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which were stripped away in the Shelby vs. Holder Supreme County decision.
The Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 decision in June 2013, decided that due to progress in voting rights, that states and political subdivisions that previously had been required tosubmit changes in voting rules and procedures, such as district lines, polling place locations and times, early voting, voter ID, and many others, were no longer required to seek preclearance from the U. S. Department of Justice for these changes.
As a result of this Supreme Court decision many states, particularly in the southern states of the ‘ old Confederacy’ have instituted changes to make it more difficult for Black and other minority people to vote. In Alabama and other states, strict photo identification requirements have been put in place, early voting has been curtailed, voter lists have been severely purged as a result of the decision.
Bernard Simelton, State President of the NAACP said, “When five justices on the Supreme Court gutted the VRA in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case, they made it easier for states and localities to revert back to discriminatory practices that restrict the voting rights of Black, Brown, Native American, and Asian American people.  It is time we address this injustice so that we have the tools to effectively combat current racial discrimination in voting.”
Attorney Faya Rose Toure from Selma said, “The Shelby vs. Holder decision was the 21st century version of the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision of 1850, which said that Black people had no rights that white people were bound to respect. We must work to restore the VRA and make sure that our people vote in every election for every contest on the ballot.”
Faya Rose and Jessica Barker spoke about plans for an August 3 to 7 bus ride to support amending and strengthening the Voting Rights Act . The buses will leave Selma that morning and drive to state capitols in Montgomery, Atlanta, Columbia, Raleigh, Richmond and on to Washington D. C. There will be a major rally in Washington D. C. on August 6, the 54th. anniversary of the passage and signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Rev. Kenneth Glascow of The Ordinary People’s Society, based in Dothan, Alabama spoke to the problems of disenfranchisement of incarcerated and prevuiously incarcerated people in Alabama and other states. “ We must make sure that people in jails awaiting trial can vote before their convictions and we must restore the vote to any persons who complete their prison sentences,” he said.
John Zippert speaking on behalf of the Alabama New South Coalitrion and the SOS Coalition for Justice and Democracy urged everyone to register to vote, to organize people in their communities to vote and to vote in every election for all for all conytests and items on the ballot.
For more information contact Alabama New South Coalition at 334/262-0932 or alabamanewsouth@aol.com and
Lift Our Vote 2020 at Liftourvote@gmail.com.

Black voters and organizations express concerns about Senator-elect Doug Jones on staffing, sexual harassment and critical issues

Alabama Senate Race

News Analysis
by: John Zippert, Co-Publisher

Alabama Senator-elect Doug Jones, whose election will not be officially certified until the end of the week, is already experiencing concerns and questioning from Black voters about his positions on critical issues, staffing of his Washington D. C. and local offices and remarks he made on a Sunday news show seeming to excuse President Trump’s sexual misconduct with numerous women.
“Black voters, who delivered Jones’ victory want him to be accountable on the issues he will face as Senator and the staffing of his offices. There is nothing wrong with Black voters feeling this way. We need to be awake and aware – after an election and hold candidates that we supported accountable for their promises and statements during the election.” said Attorney Faya Rose Toure, Co-Chair of the ‘Vote or Die Movement’.
Twenty-three community based organizations signed and sent an open letter last week congratulating Jones on his win and calling on him to fulfill specific commitments to the constituents who put him in office on issues of voting rights, health care, criminal justice, ending mass incarceration, living wages and environmental justice.

“The ticker tape for the Jones victory has barely been swept from the floor and we are already seeing him pandering to the right and stepping away from the interests of the people who elected him,” said Latosha Brown, co-founder with Cliff Albright of the Black Voters Matter Fund.
Cliff Albright said, “We are here to let Doug Jones know that the voters in Alabama did not turn out in mass numbers for his personal gain. He was elected to represent the needs of his constituents. Organizers worked hard to galvanize the Black community, and we have every intention to hold him accountable.”
The open letter to Doug Jones has been signed by 20 Alabama organizations serving the Black community and other people of color, including the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Alabama Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice, Center for Fair Housing, Inc (Mobile), The Ordinary People’s Society (TOPS), The Greene County Democrat (this newspaper) and the NAACP chapters of Tuskegee-Macon and Dothan, Alabama.
The letter calls on Jones to adopt intentional methods to hear directly from his constituents like listening sessions, town halls, and people assemblies.
National Civil Rights Groups push Jones for fair staffing

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank for Black elected officials, has signed a letter with other organizations encouraging Jones to hire a diverse Senate staff, which is sadly lacking among Democratic-elected officials.
“The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and 16 other leading civil rights groups sent a letter urging Senator-elect Doug Jones to commit to hiring a staff that reflects his constituents’ racial diversity,” said the letter dated December 19th. “In Alabama, Blacks account for more than 26 percent of the state’s population.
The Joint Center noted that people of color accounted for more 36 percent of the U.S. population but only 7.1 percent of top Senate staffers in Washington, D.C. African Americans account for just over 1 percent of top Democratic U.S. Senate staff in Washington, D.C. and just over 2 percent of top Republican U.S. Senate staff. Senior Staff in these studies is defined as chief of staff, legislative director, communications director, and committee staff director.
Top Senate staffers manage the Senate’s legislative agenda and shape the $3.9 trillion U.S. federal budget. They also oversee the Senate confirmation process for federal judges, cabinet secretaries and U.S. ambassadors.
“Senator-elect Doug Jones has an incredible opportunity to increase diversity among U.S. Senate staff,” said Spencer Overton, president of the Joint Center.  “The Joint Center and many of our partners stand ready to work with Senator-elect Jones to identify a deep and broad pool of diverse candidates.”
Some of groups that signed the letter include the NAACP, Lawyers for Civil Rights Under Law, the South Asian Fund for Education, Scholarship and Training and the National Action Network.
The letter reminded Jones of the so-called “Rooney Rule”, a National Football League policy initiated by Pittsburgh Steelers patriarch Dan Rooney. The rule requires NFL teams to interview racial minority candidates for senior jobs. “As you may know, earlier this year the Senate Democratic Caucus adopted the Rooney Rule, a commitment to interviewing at least one person of color for senior staff positions. We ask that you embrace this caucus rule and interview people of color for senior positions in your respective offices,” the letter states.

Women’s’ issues also raised with Jones

Karen Jones an active member of the Save Ourselves Movement for Democracy and Justice expressed outrage after hearing comments made by Senator-elect Doug Jones on the Sunday morning CNN State of the Union program. Jones in answer to a question from Jake Tapper said he did not support calls by other Democratic Senators that President Trump resign because of sexual harassment allegations made by numerous women and corroborated by Trump’s own “Access Hollywood” tape.
Karen Jones said, “I felt violated. We had worked for Doug Jones, brought him into our churches and community meetings, voted for him in overwhelming numbers and now five days after the Dec. 12 election, he is on TV exonerating President Trump for sexual harassment before he even gets sworn-in as a Senator.”
Jones said she was working with other Alabama women, who supported Doug Jones, to write him a letter asking for a retraction of his statements on sexual misconduct by the President and a clarification of his stand on other critical issues. “After all 98% of Black women voted for Doug Jones and 98% can take him back out if he doesn’t do or act right,” said Karen Jones.

Alabama’s Dec. 12 Special Election for U. S. Senate, bursts into national consciousness, with charges that Judge Roy Moore sexually misused teenage girls in the 1970’s

News Analysis by John Zippert, Co-Publisher

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Vote or Die Campaign supporters rally in Selma

National attention has been focused of Alabama’s December 12th Special Election for U. S. Senate between Doug Jones (Democrat) and Roy Moore (Republican). Moore was accused by five women, who were teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18, of sexually misconduct in the 1970’s, when he was a thirty-year old Assistant District Attorney in Etowah County.
Moore denies all of the charges, but many Republican Senators and leaders have suggested that he withdraw from the race, in favor of a write-in candidate.
Initially four of the girls, now women in their fifties, made statements published in Friday’s Washington Post which were corroborated by as many as 30 family and other witnesses that Moore attempted to sexually mistreat them.
On Monday, a fifth woman made allegations of attempted sexual assault by Moore when she was 16. She stated that Moore offered her a ride home after work at a Gadsden restaurant and took her to a secluded area behind the restaurant and tried to sexually attack her in the car. She escaped his unwanted advances by jumping out of the car.
This week’s New Yorker magazine carries stories quoting people in Gadsden saying that Moore was banned from visiting the city’s mall because he went there to befriend and pick-up underage girls.

Even before this week’s revelations about sexual misconduct, the race between Doug Jones and Roy Moore was projected to be close. A recent poll showed each with 46% of the vote with the rest undecided. Other polls show Moore with a slight lead 49% to 45% for Jones and some show Jones leading Moore by a similar margin.
Many political observers point to the “embarrassment factor” which is how many voters are embarrassed by the prospect of voting for Moore, whose political views and past actions suggest that he is a right-wing religious extremist who will use his position in the U. S. Senate to advance his distorted views and not help the people of Alabama.
Moore is a self-appointed, self-anointed religious zealot who says his directions come from God. He willingly misinterprets the Constitution when it serves his purposes. His right-wing Evangelical Christian conservative followers and base, which represent a significant portion of Alabama’s white voters, support these views unconditionally. These voters supported him in the primary against Luther Strange and voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential election.
Moore was twice removed from his state Supreme Court position, once for disobeying a federal court order to remove a 5,200-pound granite Ten Commandments monument from the lobby of the state judicial building, and later for urging state probate judges to defy the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage.
Moore actively supported Trump’s ‘birtherism campaign’ which suggested that President Obama was not born in the United States and was used to discredit Obama’s legitimacy.
He said more recently that Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., should not be allowed to serve in Congress because he’s a Muslim. Asked about those comments during a Washington visit, Moore said only, “I’ll address that later.”
Many national observers and commentators have suggested that Alabama voters have a real choice between Moore and Doug Jones. Senator Amy Klobachar of Minnesota said, “Alabama voters can choose between Jones who courageously prosecuted Klansmen, who bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963, killing four teenage girls, or vote for Moore who was improperly pursuing dates with teenage girls. ”
A major factor in the election will be the turnout of Black voters in the Black-Belt counties and major urban areas of Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery, Huntsville and Mobile. A strong Black voter turnout can help swing a close election to Doug Jones.
Attorney Faya Rose Toure of Selma has been spearheading a ‘Vote or Die Campaign’ since the summer to increase voter registration, education and turnout among the state’s Black voters. ”We know that if Black voters do not participate that people will die because healthcare will be eliminated, good jobs at livable wages will be lost, affordable college education will be curtailed and police brutality will continue killing our Black youth.”
“We must participate in this special election on December 12 and future elections coming in 2018 to protect Black people and insure policies and benefits to keep us alive,” said Toure.
Moore has categorically denied all allegations against him for sexual misconduct with teenage girls. He has refused to consider suggestions from national Republican leaders like Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, that he step aside in favor of a Republican write-in candidate. McConnell and other Republican Senators have indicated that they may challenge Moore and try to censure and remove him if he elected to fill the unexpired term of Jeff Sessions in the U. S. Senate.
There are less than four weeks until the election on December 12, and voters in Alabama will now make their special election selection under the glare of national press and political attention.

21st Century youth attend leadership camp

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Senator Hank Sanders leads discussion on leadership traits with participants
at 21st Century’s Youth Leadership Development Winter camp.

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L to R: Harambe participants at 21C Winter Leadership Camp held at the Selma Center for Non violence, Truth and Reconcilliation. Justine Morton, Akeem Hardy, Alphonzo Morton, IV, Ivan Peebles, Alphonzo Morton, III, Destiny Dancy, Jamia Jackson, Carol Zippert, Daijah Means.

Approximately 40 students, representing five counties, participated in the annual 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement Winter Camp in Selma, AL, December 2-4, 2016. The week end activities opened on Friday evening with the usual pep rally of freedom and leadership songs composed over the years by 21C founder, Attorney Faya Rose Toure.
This was followed by a special presentation by Mrs. Annie Pearl Avery on her coming of age and continuing activities in the Civil Rights and Freedom Movement.

Mrs. Avery, a former SNCC worker, held engaging exchanges with the students who were in awe of the risks she and so many others took in the struggles across the South.
Saturday’s activities included Mindful Movements led by April Caddell, Co-Coordinator of the Winter Camp. April also led a session on Mindfulness is a Super Power. A core session on leadership traits was presented by Senator Hank Sanders, utilizing the leadership strategies in the story of Gideon from the Bible.
The students viewed a documentary, entitled 13th, on the prison industrial system produced by Ava Duvernay. The following discussion was led by Alphonzo Morton, III, Camp Co-Coordinator. The film brought out how the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution condones the slavery of persons incarcerated. Slave labor of convicted felons became a big enterprise in this country.
Pep rallies with original 21C songs were inserted throughout the day, which was capped off with a trip to the movies for entertainment. All camp participants, students and adults, enjoyed Almost Christmas at the Walton Theater in Selma.
The week end camp closed out by noon on Sunday with a Takeaway Session where the young people shared their experiences and leadership lessons learned.
21st Century Youth Leadership Movement was founded in 1986 as a non profit organization dedicated to developing young people as community directed leaders. The various county chapters are led by volunteers who are committed to the vision and goals of the organization.