1963 – 1967: Bureau of Land Management (BLM) stole land from black Americans in Alabama (Lemon Williams and Lawrence Hudson)
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Earlier this year I learned that white Americans were stealing land from black Americans as recently as the year 1967. That was less than 50 years ago.
I’m an American and I was exceptionally troubled and unsettled after learning about this. I decided to look further into the most recent occurrence (year 1967, from what I can ascertain, may be the most recent) and I was even more disturbed when I learned that this was the doing of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Featured directly below is a photograph of Willie Williams (son of Lemon Williams, and grandson (or great-grandson?) of George Washington):
image credit: Jet magazine, June 24, 2002. photograph of Willie Williams at his 40 acre property in Sweet Water (Marengo county), Alabama in 2002.
According to the December 4, 2001 edition of The Tuscaloosa News newspaper (pictured at the foot of this report) Willie Williams’ grandfather (or great-grandfather?), George Washington, purchased 240 (two-hundred and forty) acres of land in the year 1874.
The newspaper states that in the year 1963 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a notice to Willie Williams’ father (Lemon Williams) and uncle (Lawrence “L.B.” Hudson) indicating that a 1906 federal patent classified the land as swampland owned by the state (i.e., Alabama). The notice said that they (i.e., Williams and Hudson) were “tenants” of the state on each of the respective 40 acre tracts (80 acres in total) that they had inherited and that they (i.e., Williams and Hudson) were not owners of the timber-rich ground as their deeds showed.
George Washington, Willie Williams’ grandfather (or great-grandfather?) conveyed or deeded the land to his children in the year 1900.
Tangible documents from year 1874 and year 1900, courthouse recorded, regarding the original purchase (1874) of the land and the conveyance (1900) of the land to children are available and have been preserved.
However, in the year 1964 the state officials in Alabama, with the aide of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and their year 1963 notice, initiated litigation in Marengo County to obtain quiet title to 40 acres of the land owned by Lemon Williams (Willie Williams’ father) and another 40 acres owned by Lawrence “L.B.” Hudson (Willie Williams’ uncle).
Evidently Lemon Williams (and his wife) and his brother Lawrence Hudson (and his wife) hired an attorney (J.C. Camp) in year 1964 and provided the him with their respective deeds to the land and $100.
In segregation-era Alabama it appears that they, as black Americans, didn’t have a chance of prevailing in the courthouse, especially when then opposing force was the Attorney General of Alabama.
On April 24, year 1967, Judge Emmett F. Hildreth (Circuit Court) awarded the land (80 acres in total) to the state of Alabama. However, he also ordered that Lemon Williams (and his wife) and his brother Lawrence Hudson (and his wife) could remain on the land until their deaths.
Lemons Williams died in 1983 and it appears that Lawrence Hudson died in 1975.
It should also be noted that prior the 1967 decision in the case that same judge (Emmett F. Hildreth) also wrote a letter (year 1965) to Alabama state officials stating that the black family had, “been in the possession of these lands about three generations. The effect of a decree favorable to the state of Alabama would be to dispossess these people and deprive them of these lands. Such action would create a severe injustice.”
Apparently some of the records of this case (perhaps in the District Court where the case began?) were destroyed in a courthouse fire at some point (1965 fire at Marengo County courthouse?). Furthermore, the attorney (J.C. Camp) who the family hired in 1964 has since died and never returned the tangible contemporary deeds which contained grantee names of Lemon Williams (and his wife) and his brother Lawrence Hudson (and his wife).
In year 2001 James Griggs (or “Jim” Griggs), who at that time was the Director of the State Lands Division at the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, stated that, “The file shows the property was in the U.S. Government up until 1906 and then patented to the state [of Alabama].”
Griggs asserted that, “There has only been two owners of the land, the federal government and the state.”
In May, 2008 Griggs was appointed to the board of the Geological Survey of Alabama State Oil and Gas Board.
Willie Williams’ mother (now deceased) wrote letters to former governors of Alabama pleading for help regarding her family’s land. Those letters are still on file with the state of Alabama. Apparently the former governors decided not to help.
The land was finally returned –
According to the June 1, 2002 edition of The Tuscaloosa News newspaper (pictured at the foot of this report along with the December 4, 2001 edition )
On May 31, year 2002 the Governor of Alabama, Don Eugene Siegelman, signed a document which transferred the 40 acres back to Willie Williams (son of Lemon Williams).
In an Associated Press report by Bill Poovey, which can be read in the June 6, 2002 online edition of the Southeast Missourian newspaper, the following is indicated:
He [Willie Williams] said the family would likely pursue its claim that an adjacent 40-acre farm, once owned by cousins [children of Lawrence Hudson], also was wrongly taken by the state.
He [Willie Williams] was unsure if he might seek some kind of additional compensation from the state for the land taking, which he said denied his family its use while state conservation officials collected fees for hunting rights.
December 4, 2001 edition of The Tuscaloosa News newspaper –
June 1, 2002 edition of The Tuscaloosa News newspaper –