Legacy of Land Theft

One does not have to be a scholar of history to know that colonizers used violence against Native Americans to take over land in this country. That white wealth was built on that stolen land using the labor of enslaved people forcibly removed from Africa. That much of the western U.S. used to be Mexico. It is also common knowledge that, through redlining and urban renewal, homes and land were unjustly taken from African Americans. Perhaps you can see how a parallel process is happening with gentrification. The physical violence used to steal land and labor in early U.S. history morphed into the violence of greedy government actions and the leveraging of ill-begotten wealth.

Some of us have benefited from this soul-crushing legacy of land theft. By acknowledging this, we take a small but essential step towards repairing the damage done.

Cherokee family, circa 1920-1940. (Photo: NC Museum of History)
People’s History

In their piece “A People’s History of 37 Montford,” the Amy Mandel Katina Rodis Fund and the Tzedek Social Justice Fellowship make such an acknowledgement. They also explain how this awareness has led to the intentional sharing of their space.

“In November 2016, AMKRF and the Tzedek Fellowship established a physical office for the first time at 37 Montford Avenue. Currently, Asheville is one of the most rapidly gentrifying cities in the country, and the capacity to own property or secure a lease is an extraordinary privilege in a place where space is increasingly inaccessible.

In Asheville, stories of place and space routinely erase Cherokee presence in this region and the ongoing consequences of redlining, urban renewal, and other forms of systematic racism on Black and Brown communities in Asheville. Instead of ignoring these histories, we wanted to know more about the place that is our organizational home and to share the story with others who gather there.

We also found ourselves asking how can this space support more than our organization’s mission. As a result of that question, we developed a practice of opening our space to others engaged in working towards social justice in Asheville. 37 Montford Avenues is the home office of AMKRF/Tzedek, but it also supports the work of local grassroots organizations, opportunities for healing, storytelling circles, strategic planning sessions, circles for learning and reflection, and more.”

Perhaps this example will spark ideas of ways to leverage the spaces you occupy as tools for justice.

As we study historical dynamics and start to shift our behaviors and resources in response, we can also look towards larger scale actions.

South Africa to amend constitution to begin redistribution of land to Black owners” is a related story that caught my eye.

Excerpt: “[President Cyril] Ramaphosa addressed South Africa’s parliament in Cape Town in February stating that the ‘original sin’ of the country was the European colonizers taking land from the tribal people in the 1600s. The South African parliament passed a motion to take back the land. ‘The expropriation of land without compensation is envisaged as one of the measures that we will use to accelerate redistribution of land to black South Africans,’ Ramaphosa said at the time.” (The Grio)

The City of Asheville currently holds property that was unfairly taken from black homeowners during urban renewal. I am not aware of specific ways the entities who benefited from urban renewal are offering restitution.

Of note is Council’s support of a community land trust, which the Asheville Blade reported on in their story about the July 24 City Council meeting:

“While there wasn’t much discussion about the issue at the meeting, Council did unanimously agree to reiterate their support (including $1 million in bond funds) for a land trust, an organization that would purchase land to provide permanently affordable housing, especially in gentrifying areas. Unlike the non-profit-owned housing complexes the city has traditionally incentivized, the residents would have a share and say in the ownership and use of the property, which would be assured to remain affordable.

Land trusts are a popular local government idea among both more progressive liberals and left-wing movements, though they can vary pretty considerably about how those should be implemented. So far, the board of the Asheville Buncombe Community land trust is composed of a combination of experienced community activists as well as government officials, and plans to focus on predominantly African-American communities.”

Perhaps in addition, like YTL Training Program’s proposal for the return of Stephens Lee to the black community, the City could give land back to the families it was taken from.

Further food for thought is this Forbes article (which I’ve linked to before because I find it so compelling), “Residents Sue Washington D.C. For Racist Gentrification Practices.”

Excerpt: “[Aristotle] Theresa’s clients worry that rising housing costs and gentrification will drive them out of their neighborhoods, as new luxury apartment buildings are being built in the city to attract the creative class, along with upscale developments such as the $2.5 billion construction of The Wharf. The lawsuit stated that around 39,000 black residents had been forced out of the city from 2000 to 2010, while the area gained 50,000 white residents.”

Sound familiar?

Rejecting the capitalist concept of land ownership leads us in even more radical directions. A return to the Native American belief that land is a communal resource. Collective liberation can mean that land and resources are also collective.

We can keep imagining and moving towards what’s possible.

As always, to avoid overwhelm, start where you are.

Inspiration and Hope
Here are a few aspirational projects that can use your support.

babs 2018
Jerome Williams, Gene Ettison, and Tremaine Williams. Photo: Cindy Kunst

Food Justice
“With his Build a Better Salad food truck, chef Gene Ettison is helping to reboot the groundbreaking Ujamaa Freedom Market initiative, which brought fresh produce as well as cooking education and employment opportunities to Asheville’s underserved communities.” Click here to read the Mountain Xpress cover story about B.A.B.S. and their partnership with Sunil Patel of Patchwork Urban Farms. Good stuff.

Beloved Sustainer Challenge
Beloved Asheville does beautiful work with people experiencing homelessness as well engaging in community activism. As highlighted in the video above, this month they have issued a challenge for new 300 sustainers in 30 days. Click here to donate.

house of pentaclesHouse of Pentacles Fundraiser
“House of Pentacles (HOP) is a Film Training Program and Production House designed to launch Black trans youth (ages 18-35) into the film industry and tell stories woven at the intersection of being Black and Trans. We are raising $5000 to put 5 Cameras and equipment kits into the hands of Black trans youth in Durham. HOP trainees will use these cameras to learn the craft of storytelling, gain professional development, and build a portfolio to use in the future.” This fundraiser is also running through August. Click here to donate.


Calendar highlights
A few events of note coming up this weekend…
* East End Valley Street Community Heritage Festival – Friday, Saturday, Sunday (look for the article I wrote about this historic African American neighborhood and their vision for the festival in this week’s issue of the Mountain Xpress)
* Buncombe County Women’s Agenda Assembly – Saturday
* 5th Annual My Sistah Taught Me That Fashion Show – Sunday

FYI I have a FB page for my writing – click here to “Like” it.


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