We tell our story because our past is the story of many descendant families in America, and because our current journey of acknowledgement, reconciliation, and closure is the story of too few.
But this is not just the story of Sarah and Randy, or even of our two families. The Reparations Project exists because so many other individuals stepped up to take action, and walked with us to help us heal.
“Love is an action, never simply a feeling.” -bell hooks
Sarah’s great-great-great grandfather, George Adam Keller, gave 10 acres of reparation land to Zeike/Isaac and Grace Quarterman, Randy’s great-great-great grandparents, in Port Wentworth, Georgia, a few miles outside of Savannah where Sherman executed the failed attempt at reparations: Special Field Order No. 15 (“forty acres and a mule”).
Sarah began personal reparations research and found Randy, who was willing and generous enough to speak with her. He told her that Zeike Quarterman’s descendants still owned the 10 acres of reparations land as heirs property, and that although the Quartermans had been paying taxes on the land all along, they had been denied access to it for decades, and were now losing an acre of their land for less than fair market value to the county for a parkway by eminent domain. Remarkably, Randy was currently involved in trying to save that land.
Sarah and Randy began to ask: What does it mean if we allow land reparations given to descendants of the enslaved back in 1890, to be taken away in 2019 by eminent domain? They began to research the limitations of heirs property and horrific history of Black land loss via eminent domain, and found that clearing title to the land would be extremely complicated, long, and expensive. They began doing research and searching for an attorney.
From the beginning, Randy wanted to save the land to build something on it for the community. He has dreams of a financial literacy center for all, which would also be a place for folks re-entering society after incarceration to learn entrepreneurial and financial literacy skills.
Sarah traveled with her mother and other family members to meet Randy and his family for the first time. They sat in the small church on the Quartermans’ division land and talked about the past and how they all might move forward toward healing through truth telling and clearing title on the reparations land. The next day, family met with Patt Gunn, owner of Underground Tours of Savannah and took her “Slaves of the City” tour, walking together as descendant families of both the enslaved and enslavers. Since that day, Patt has been foundational to Randy’s and Sarah’s healing and vision for The Reparations Project. A Gullah Geechee descendant of the Enslaved on the Georgia coast, Patt is a catalyst for social justice causes of the American journey from slavery to healing.
Sarah, Randy, and Randy’s Uncle Andrew flew to New York City to tell their current story and plans for a bigger effort to help the Black community in the future, to the Living Cities Board of Directors—CEO’s of some of the most powerful foundations in America—and see if they could enlist legal help. The opportunity was thanks to now board member Nadia Owusu, an executive at Living Cities. It was a moving experience, but neither this meeting, nor repeated attempts to pro bono or paid representation came to fruition. Heirs property attorneys are in high demand and those that do great pro bono work, like the GA Heirs Property Law Center, were overbooked. Pictured: Andrew Quarterman Sr., the man who took on the responsibility of paying the taxes so the Quarterman reparations land would not be lost.
Sarah’s longtime friend Katy Basile, a CA based attorney, stepped up after hearing the story at a casual dinner and said her firm would help in any way they could, pro bono. She and her colleague DJ Cespedes did extensive research and connected Sarah and Randy with an amazing team at Kilpatrick in GA who agreed to help also on a pro bono basis. Katy and DJ have continued to help move the effort forward and on the team and will be working to help with the Legal Land Redress Academy going forward.