Topic: Direitos de Propriedade e Solo

Reclaiming Black-Owned Land

June 17, 2024

By Anthony Flint, June 17, 2024


As the nation marks Juneteenth—the now national holiday observed on June 19th, commemorating the day in 1865 that the last enslaved people were freed in the United States following President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation—the issue of land and property ownership in communities of color continues to be problematic.

President Lincoln’s policy of awarding “40 acres and a mule” to the formerly enslaved was rescinded by successor Andrew Johnson. Following that, in many instances what land African Americans were able to acquire and maintain became subject to improper seizures or lost in a muddle of legal failings in transfers and inheritances.

According to the American Bar Association, Black Americans owned around 14 million acres of land by 1910, considered the peak of Black land ownership in the United States. But by 2022, that number had dropped to 1.1 million acres—a 90 percent decline, with a cumulative loss of about $326 billion in value. The difficulties in maintaining land ownership, combined with exclusionary zoning, redlining, and discriminatory real estate practices, has deprived communities of color of the opportunity to build wealth for decades.

“Core to being an American is freedom, and the freedom to own property is part of that,” says Mavis Gragg, a self-described “death and dirt” attorney who helps individuals and families maintain real estate through inheritance, in this episode of the Land Matters podcast. “Everything that occurred with the ending of slavery wasn’t just about race and oppressing people of color. It was also a lot about money and growing wealth, but . . . mostly for white people.”


Heirs property attorney Mavis Gragg. Credit: Courtesy photo.


Gragg, who founded the organization HeirShares to leverage technology to clarify legal pathways to maintaining or reclaiming land, works with families who don’t have a legal determination of ownership—a major issue for not only preserving generational wealth but also getting access to financing, services, and eligibility for disaster relief or agricultural programs.

Reclaiming land has been equally challenging, though awareness is increasing with cases like Bruce’s Beach in California—a waterfront resort owned by the Bruce family until 1924, when the city of Manhattan Beach seized it using eminent domain. The city claimed it needed the land for a park, but the racist motivations behind the decision were ultimately revealed; the return of the land to the family in 2022 was seen as a landmark case for improperly seized property.


Officials in Manhattan Beach, California, seized Bruce’s Beach from its Black owners in the 1920s. Los Angeles County returned the land to the family in 2022 with an option to sell it back, which the family later chose to do. Credit: Los Angeles County.


As Gragg notes, “They even found documents from the local government in which actors were basically describing their own racist acts. They literally were speaking to end this couple’s ability to own that property, and it wasn’t because of a public good. It’s in writing. I think that case was wonderful in terms of bringing that visibility and seeing that, yes, governments do that. That was a while ago, but we still see that stuff happening today, unfortunately, where local government actors, whether they’re in the court system or the tax office, are still doing things that are pretty bad.”

The Bruce’s Beach case is also revealing in “understanding wealth in America, because the Bruces acquired that property around the same time that the Hiltons began the Hilton, the hotel of their empire. I’m using Hilton as a comparison, considering that the Bruces were in the hospitality industry with their land. They were using it to support recreation and gathering and so forth in Manhattan Beach. What if the Bruces had been successful in retaining ownership of their property, and their empire, so to speak, bloomed from the early 1900s to the present day? Could you imagine?”

Mavis Gragg has had two decades of experience in real estate, conflict resolution, estate planning, and probate. She has presented to a variety of audiences, from MIT to the Yale School of Forestry to the National Press Foundation, and contributed a chapter on preventing and resolving heirs property legal issues to the recently published book Heirs’ Property and the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act: Challenges, Solutions, and Historic Reform, coedited by McCarthur genius grant awardee Thomas W. Mitchell of Boston College. This summer she concluded a year as a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

You can listen to the show and subscribe to Land Matters on Apple Podcasts,  Spotify, Stitcher, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts.



Anthony Flint is a senior fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, host of the Land Matters podcast, and a contributing editor of Land Lines.

Lead image: Mavis Gragg speaks at Stagville, a former plantation in North Carolina. Credit: Courtesy photo.



Further reading

The Truth Behind ’40 Acres and a Mule’ | PBS

Heirs’ Property and Its Effects on Black Land Ownership in Cities | National League of Cities

Think Land Policy Is Unrelated to Racial Injustice? Think Again. | Land Lines

Advocates push nationwide movement for land return to Blacks after victory in California | The Washington Post

Five Ways Urban Planners Are Addressing a Legacy of Inequity | Land Lines

Gaining Ground | PBS

Research on the Benefits, Challenges, and Implications of Land-Based Mitigation Strategies

Submission Deadline: March 7, 2024  -  April 11, 2024

This RFP will open for submissions on March 7, 2024, and close on April 11, 2024. See the application guidelines for additional information on evaluation criteria, expected budget ranges, and further context.

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy invites proposals for original research that examines the challenges and implications of land-based climate change mitigation responses to promote more effective and equitable action. The geographic focus is global, with particular interest in proposals from a developing context. Proposals will be reviewed competitively according to evaluation criteria. The output is expected to result in a document that could become a Lincoln Institute Working Paper appropriate for publication.

Proposals must align with at least one of the four themes outlined below.

Theme 1: Translate Lessons from Closely Related Fields Past large-scale land-based interventions and extractive industries, such as wildlife conservation, large dams, and mining, demonstrate that policies and programs often fail to consider local contexts and can amplify existing international and domestic power disparities. These past interventions and industries have been examined extensively via diverse academic disciplines, including rural sociology, development economics, anthropology, and geography. Such in-depth review has generated lessons, analysis, and policy recommendations that can be applied to the emerging field of land-based climate mitigation.

This research theme aims to apply the knowledge, history, and policy recommendations from existing research of analogous past large-scale land-based interventions to help minimize the pitfalls of land-based mitigation. Through documentation and analysis, the research should identify lessons and propose recommendations for land-based mitigation.

Theme 2: Emerging High-Level Policy Frameworks and Their Implications for Land-Based Mitigation  Policy decisions that drive the financing and implementation of land-based mitigation occur at a very high level, largely removed from any local context. Ongoing negotiations and decision-making create frameworks that establish expectations, objectives, and rules for defining and undertaking land-based mitigation activities. Such frameworks, which include voluntary carbon markets, Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, net-zero pledges, and nationally determined contributions (NDCs), affect how, where, at what scale, and by whom land-based mitigation is implemented and its potential consequences.

This research theme aims to analyze these frameworks, including the context in which policies and decisions are made, to understand how they are evolving and to identify the emerging policy implications. Implications could relate to emerging national and subnational legislation and regulations on carbon markets, land tenure reforms, or new processes that include local and Indigenous communities in decision-making, among many others.

Theme 3: Understanding Current Trends   While international and national policies are still in development, momentum is building around land-based mitigation strategies and resulting in developments on the ground, from proposals to implementation. Land-based mitigation objectives directly drive these large-scale projects, agreements, and proposals. This research theme seeks to identify and examine such developments, including their challenges, benefits, and implications for local communities, and to extract lessons and insights to guide future work.

Theme 4: Evaluating Alternatives to Carbon as a Commodity  Several less-carbon-centric alternatives that recognize the wider benefits and demands on land more wholly have been offered. Among these are agricultural systems (agroecology, regenerative agriculture, etc.), conservation methods (ecosystem restoration, mosaic restoration, pro-forestation), and rights-based approaches (Indigenous and community-based land stewardship), all of which have been, to some extent, applied, so evidence of their potential benefits and challenges exists. The focus of this research theme is reviewing these alternative approaches, assessing them, and comparing them to other emerging methods. Results from this research theme should help identify viable land-use policies to support effective and equitable land-based mitigation strategies within an earth system governance framework.

RFP Schedule

  • Application deadline: April 11, 2024
  • Notification of accepted proposals: May 2, 2024
  • First progress report*: June 30, 2024
  • Second progress report: October 17, 2024
  • First draft: December 20, 2024
  • Final deliverable(s): May 1, 2025

*We recognize the early timing of this deliverable. The first progress report is intended to show initial advancements and share early project updates, such as data collection or engagement plans. We do not expect it to contain significant findings.

Evaluation Criteria

The Lincoln Institute will evaluate proposals based on the following criteria:

  • Relevance to at least one research theme identified in the RFP guidelines related to the benefits, challenges, and implications of land-based mitigation strategies.
  • Quality of the proposed methodology and sources of data.
  • Qualifications of the members of the research team.
  • Feasibility of project completion within the stated timeline and budget justification.


Application Period
March 7, 2024  -  April 11, 2024
Oportunidades de bolsas

China Program International Fellowship 2024-25

Submission Deadline: November 30, 2023 at 11:59 PM

The Lincoln Institute’s China program invites applications for the annual International Fellowship Program. The program seeks applications from academic researchers working on the following topics in China:  

  • Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the future of cities; 
  • Climate change and cities; 
  • Urban development trends and patterns; 
  • Urban regeneration; 
  • Municipal finance and land value capture; 
  • Land policies; 
  • Housing policies; 
  • Urban environment and health; and 
  • Land and water conservation. 

The fellowship aims to promote international scholarly dialogue on China’s urban development and land policy, and to further the Lincoln Institute’s objective to advance land policy solutions to economic, social, and environmental challenges. The fellowship is provided to scholars who are based outside mainland China. Visit the website of the Peking University–Lincoln Institute Center for Urban Development and Land Policy (Beijing) to learn about a separate fellowship for scholars based in mainland China.  

Application period: September 29 to November 30, 2023, 11:59 p.m. EST. 


Submission Deadline
November 30, 2023 at 11:59 PM



Conservation Easements: Legal Principles, Valuation, and Applications

Offered in inglês

Conservation easements play an important role in protecting natural landscapes and sensitive habitats, and in promoting sustainable land use practices. In this course, students will explore the principles, applications, controversies, and implications of this land policy instrument.

The course begins with an introduction and overview of conservation easements, setting the stage to explore their uses in land policy. Throughout the modules, students will also review the legal principles, valuation methods, and federal tax provisions associated with conservation easements, while gaining insights from real-world examples and exploring strategies to address controversial aspects of this tool.



Module 1: Introduction and Overview

Module 2: Conservation Easements as an Instrument of Land Policy

Module 3: Why Are Conservation Easements Important? A Cape Cod, MA, Example

Module 4: Legal Principles of Property Taxation and Conservation Easements, Part I

Module 5: Legal Principles of Property Taxation and Conservation Easements, Part II

Module 6: The Appraisal of Conservation Easements

Module 7: Considerations for Valuing Restricted Land

Module 8: Valuing Land Affected by Conservation Easements: Guidance from Federal Law and Regulations, Part I

Module 9: Valuing Land Affected by Conservation Easements: Guidance from Federal Law and Regulations, Part II


Policymakers, professionals working in the field of environmental protection, planners, appraisers and valuation experts, lawyers and legal professionals specialized in land use and property law, and property owners interested in learning more about conservation easements.

Learning Goals

After finishing this course, students will be able to:

  • Explain what conservation easements are and their purpose
  • Explain the uses of conservation easements as a land policy instrument
  • Identify different types of easements
  • Identify controversial aspects of conservation easements and propose ways to mitigate them
  • Discuss the effects of conservation easements on property values
  • Identify the federal tax provisions that address conservation easements


Registration Fee
Educational Credit Type
Lincoln Institute certificate


Avaliação, Preservação, Restrições de Preservação, Servidão, Planejamento Ambiental, Uso do Solo, Valor da Terra, Recursos Naturais, Espaço Aberto, Planejamento, Desenvolvimento Sustentável

Oportunidades de bolsas para estudantes graduados

2023 C. Lowell Harriss Dissertation Fellowship Program

Submission Deadline: March 3, 2023 at 6:00 PM

The Lincoln Institute's C. Lowell Harriss Dissertation Fellowship Program assists PhD students whose research complements the Institute's interest in property valuation and taxation. The program provides an important link between the Institute's educational mission and its research objectives by supporting scholars early in their careers. 

The application deadline is 6:00 p.m. EST on March 3, 2023. 

For information on present and previous fellowship recipients and projects, please visit C. Lowell Harriss Dissertation Fellows, Current and Past


Submission Deadline
March 3, 2023 at 6:00 PM