Faith Rivers James publishes book chapter on African American property ownership
In the book, Breakthrough Communities: Sustainability and Justice in the Next American Metropolis, Elon Law professor Faith Rivers James explores challenges to the preservation of African American property ownership in coastal South Carolina.
Heirs' property, describing land owned by numerous family members who are the descendants of the original purchaser, is the focus of Rivers James' work. She writes that heirs' property owners, because of limited access to legal counsel, are in constant danger of losing their inheritance through partition orders and tax sales.
"Heirs' property is perpetuated by the lack of estate planning," Rivers James writes. "By operation of de jure and de facto discrimination, coupled with economic limitations, throughout most of the 20th Century, generations of African Americans did not enjoy meaningful access to legal counsel."
Through a case study, Rivers James' explores heirs' property from historical beginnings to procedural matters in equity court.
"Most heirs' property owners have seen valuable property taken by legal means from their friends, family and community members by land speculators, developers and unscrupulous businessmen," Rivers James says. "These threats relegate a broad group of African Americans who inherited land through intestacy to a disadvantaged class of property ownership."
The chapter places heir's property in an equitable growth framework, which is a central theme of Breakthrough Communities, published by MIT Press. The book describes current efforts to create sustainable communities across the United States, exploring movements to overcome economic, environmental and resource inequalities nationwide. Its authors are described by Peter Calthorpe, author of The Next American Metropolis, as "the leaders of a movement that will change how we address social issues and transform public policy in a systemic way."
Rivers James is currently working on the article, "Land Rich but Rights Poor: Building Wealth in Heirs' Property," which explores opportunities for heirs’ property owners to build wealth through their family land assets. The article has been accepted for presentation at the Association for Law, Property, and Society conference in March 2010.
Rivers James has published two law review articles on heirs' property: "Inequity in Equity: The Tragedy of Tenancy in Common for Heirs' Property Owners Facing Partition in Equity," published in the Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review, 2007-2008, and "The Public Trust Debate: Preserving Heirs’ Property Along the Gullah Coast," published in the fall 2006 edition of the Southeastern Environmental Law Journal. She also presented research on heirs’ property on October 2, 2009, at the South Carolina Black Lawyers Association Continuing Legal Education Conference.