One Black Family’s Sobering Fight to Keep Their Land – DIGIWIZ CENTRAL

One Black Family’s Sobering Fight to Keep Their Land

Amazon Studios

With Silver Dollar Road (Oct. 20, Prime Video), Oscar-nominated I Am Not Your Negro director Raoul Peck adapts Lizzie Presser’s ProPublica article, “Their Family Bought Land One Generation After Slavery. The Reels Brothers Spent Eight Years in Jail for Refusing to Leave It” (published in collaboration with The New Yorker). Nonetheless, journalistic rigor is not this documentary’s strong suit. The story of a North Carolina clan struggling to retain their familial land in the face of intense developer pressure, it paints a warm portrait of relatives sticking together through thick and thin. When it comes to its central legal struggle, though, it leaves out so many crucial details that it cuts itself off at the knees.

In Carteret County, North Carolina, Gertrude Reels owns dozens of acres that she inherited from her ancestors, who first acquired it courtesy of Elijah Reels in 1911. Located on Silver Dollar Road, which leads straight down to the water, this estate was the gathering place for generations of Reels men and women, including Gertrude’s daughter Mamie Ellison and granddaughter Kim Duhon, who wax nostalgic about the “magical” times spent there roaming around, playing, and hanging out with uncles who told tales of mermaids when they weren’t unloading seafood from their commercial fishing boats. Music, dancing, barbecues, and other festivities were a routine facet of summers at Silver Dollar Road, and they were all due to Gertrude’s claim on the plot, courtesy of heirs’ property laws which state that land is passed down through inheritance even without the presence of a formal will.

In 1978, Gertrude’s right of ownership was called into question by her uncle Shedrick, who declared that he had a deed stipulating that he owned Silver Dollar Road. On March 19, 1979, a court sided with him, granting him (and, later, a firm known as Adams Creek Associates) ownership of 13 waterfront acres. This incident initiated a legal battle, and Silver Dollar Road contextualizes it via brief preceding text cards and newspaper headlines about how former slaves had transformed swamplands into rich and vibrant areas and how, in the early 20th century, white supremacists had terrorized Black Southern landowners. The implication is clear: Shedrick was in league with, or being exploited by, white Adams Creek Associates businessmen who sought to snatch the Reels property and, presumably, develop it in a manner akin to surrounding projects with homes, golf courses, and boat slips fit for wealthy tourists.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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