Generational Theft: Martyr George Floyd’s Family Was Robbed Of 500 Acres
Racism and the broken promise of 40 acres and a mule have stripped African-American families of wealth for generations.
George Floyd’s family is no different. Recent protests triggered by his brutal death at the hands of Minneapolis police aren’t only about his murder, but systematic racism that has plagued Back people for centuries. In Floyd’s case, his ancestors had 500 acres stolen from them.
Floyd’s grandparents were sharecroppers and his aunt Angela Harrelson recently told The Los Angeles Times how they taught their kids to get along in a slowly desegregating America: Sit at the back of the bus, do what white folks tell you, “stay strong and hold on.”
Harrelson says she now sees others staying strong for her nephew George, who moved to Minneapolis three years ago to be closer to Harrelson and to build a new life. Floyd, 46, was a father of three who left the low-income Houston neighborhood where he grew up.
Harrelson promised his mother that she would look after him.
In Minneapolis, Floyd worked as a bouncer and a retail clerk. He got engaged.
A year after he moved, Floyd’s mother died, and Harrelson said she felt even more responsible for him. She warned him about interacting with the local white establishment, specifically the area police.
She spoke from the Black experience.
Her great-grandfather was a slave named Hillary Thomas Stewart who got his freedom at age 8 and settled near Goldsboro, N.C., The L.A. Times reported.
By age 21, Stewart had amassed 500 acres of land and married a woman named Larcenia.
Unfortunately, the couple couldn’t read or write and when white farmers took over their land, Stewart and his wife didn’t have the tools to fight back.
Their land “was stolen from them,” Harrelson said.
Now reflecting on what happened to her nephew, Harrelson knows it is the result of deep-rooted racism and inequality.
She said, “What happened to George changed people’s hearts…That’s a huge start, because you can’t do something if you don’t acknowledge it. They just say you’re playing the race card. That happened 400 years ago. But it’s systematic racism.”
“The same attitude that would lead an officer to kneel in the back of the neck of someone under their custody, under their supposed care, are the same attitudes harbored by bank lenders, real estate agents, appraisers,” said Andre M. Perry, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, in a Vox interview.
And it still is all about the land.
“You know, for so long in the country, who owns land controlled so much of our political system,” Perry said. “Landowners feel the privilege to dictate policy. There’s also a sense of entitlement that this is their community. This is, ‘I get to dictate what I want to do in this community based on the fact that I own land, own property.'”
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Black people have been systematically denied housing and discouraged to have housing for generations, Perry added.
Can years of generational theft be rectified?
Not unless drastic change is made, according to civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”
“The Black-white economic divide is as wide today as it was more than 50 years ago. And the same divide-and-conquer tactics that were used to prevent multiracial alliances for economic justice in the 1800s and 1900s were employed yet again in 2016 with spectacular results, as white Americans fearful of losing political power because of profound demographic changes elected a former reality show billionaire to the presidency, a man who unleashed racist tirades against immigrants on the campaign trail and vowed to ‘make America great again’ by taking us back to a time we supposedly left behind — perhaps the time of civil war,” Alexander wrote in a New York Times column
“Unless we choose a radically different path now, our persistent racial divisions and oppressive political and economic systems may unravel our democracy sooner rather than later,” she added.