Heirs' property laws have resulted in the loss of Black-owned land : Planet Money Today's show: the arcane laws that have cost Black landowners their property, and the lawyer who is trying to fix those laws. | Subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.
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How Jacob Loud's Land Was Lost

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How Jacob Loud's Land Was Lost

How Jacob Loud's Land Was Lost

How Jacob Loud's Land Was Lost

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The Loud family tree Fred Wardlaw hide caption

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Fred Wardlaw

In 1999, Fred Wardlaw got a phone call from his mother. She was calling about the family land: 160 acres bought by Wardlaw's great-great-great grandfather, a formerly enslaved man named Jacob Loud.

According to Wardlaw's mother, the family was at risk of losing that land. A judge had ordered that the entire property be put up for auction. But this wasn't because of an overdue mortgage payment or unpaid taxes. Instead, the ruling was based on an arcane set of laws concerning "heirs' property," property that had been passed down without a will.

In the last hundred years, heirs' property laws have contributed to the loss of millions of acres of Black-owed land. Some of this land can be traced as far back as the Wardlaws', acquired by formerly enslaved people through government land grants. Today on the show, Fred Wardlaw's struggle to keep his family's land, and the lawyer trying to fix the legal system around heirs' property.

Music: "Moonlight In The Afternoon," "Never Say Never, and "Lazy Lover."

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