The Racist Structures That Prevented Black Home Ownership Are Finally Being Exposed

For Black people, land ownership isn’t just about equity — it’s about freedom

Nicholas Russell
Published in
7 min readAug 27, 2020


Photo illustration. Sources: Yann Arthus-Bertrand/Thomas Barwick/H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

This piece is part of The Uprising Marches On, a package on what’s next for the movement for Black lives.

“If God be for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31, subheading of The Freedman’s Torchlight

In the early 1800s in New York, political enfranchisement for freed Black people was directly determined by whether or not they owned land. While white men could vote no matter if they had any land, free Black men were required to own $250 worth of taxable property. Even in those parts of the country where free Black people — Black men, really — could more easily acquire land, they still faced the constant threat of violence and property destruction.

In American schools we learn a simplified history, one that enforces a strict dichotomy between the altruistic, abolitionist North and the racist, secessionist South. But New York’s economy was inextricably tied to that of the Southern states, from which upstate mills would receive raw cotton to process into textiles. Before its occupation in the collective imagination as a bastion of…