A couple weeks back the Washington Post published a feature article by “food writer” Korsha Wilson about how many former slaves worked their own land in the decades after the Civil War, but whose descendants are now struggling to keep their land and livelihoods:
Many of those farmers’ descendants are now scrambling to prove and retain ownership, a complicated task thanks to a legal loophole that allows distant relatives and developers to obtain rights to lands that have been in families for generations.
According to the 2017 U.S. Agricultural Census, the number of black farmers has increased to 45,508, a fraction of the 3.2 million white farmers in the same report. Yet black owner-operators are losing farmland at a higher rate than their white counterparts. Since 2012, about 3 percent of farmland owned and operated by African Americans has been lost, compared to 0.3 percent of farmland owned and operated by whites.
The subtext of the article is pretty easy to make out: things have never been worse for southern blacks, because racism in Amerika is getting steadily worse. (Though it is a curious fact that many northern blacks have been moving back to the south in the last couple decades, presumably because they miss racism? That’s a story for another day. . .)
The byline ID at the end of the article reads:
Wilson is a New York-based food writer and host of the podcast “A Hungry Society.” Staff writer Tim Carman contributed to the updated, corrected version of this article.
Now let’s have a look at staff writer Carman’s correction, because it is a doozy:
Corrections: A previous version of this article contained many errors and omitted context and allegations important to understanding two families’ stories. This version has been updated.
• The first name of Emanuel Freeman Sr. was misspelled.
• Contrary to what was reported in the initial article, Freeman Sr.’s grandson, Johnny, did not refuse to move off a Halifax, Va., sidewalk for a white woman; he was talking to her, which drew the ire of some white locals, including the Ku Klux Klan. When a crowd gathered at the Freeman home where Johnny fled, gunfire was exchanged, and one family member’s home was set ablaze.
• The 2017 U.S. Agricultural Census compared farmland owned and operated, not simply owned, by white and black farmers.
• The number of children Freeman had with his second wife, Rebecca, was eight, not 10.
• Ownership of Freeman’s property was not transferred to heirs when Rebecca died. In fact, he used a trust before he died to divide his property among his heirs.
• The partition sale of the Freeman estate was in 2016, not 2018, and it included 360 acres of the original 1,000, not 30 acres of the original 99.
• The story omitted key details that affect understanding of ownership of the land. Melinda J.G. Hyman says “Jr.” and “Sr.” were left off the names of father and son on documents, and the land was mistakenly combined under Rebecca’s name, meaning some descendants did not receive proper ownership. After requesting a summary of the property, Hyman says, she found her great-aunt, Pinkie Freeman Logan, was the rightful heir to hundreds of acres, but they were not properly transferred to her. In 2016, Hyman says, 360 acres of the original 1,000 were auctioned off after a lengthy court battle, a decision she says she and some other family members dispute.
• The article omitted Hyman’s statement that actions by law firm Bagwell & Bagwell constitute apparent conflicts of interest and omitted firm owner George H. Bagwell’s response denying that allegation.
• A description by agricultural lawyer Jillian Hishaw of laws governing who inherits property when a landowner dies was a reference to the laws in most states, not more than 20 states. She was also generally describing these laws, not referring to Virginia law.
• A study the article said compared the prevalence of estate planning by older white and older black Americans was published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine, not the National Library of Medicine, and was about possession of advance health directives, not estate planning.
• Tashi Terry said, “Welcome to Belle Terry Lane,” not “Welcome to Belle Terry Farm.” The property is named Terry Farm.
• Aubrey Terry did not buy 170 acres with his siblings in 1963; his parents bought the 150-acre property in 1961.
• The eldest Terry brother died in 2011, not 2015.
• The article omitted Tashi Terry’s account of some incidents that led to a lawsuit seeking a partition sale of her family’s farm and her allegations against Bagwell & Bagwell, which the firm denies.
• A law proposed to protect heirs from losing land in partition sales is called the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act, not the Partition of Heirs Property Act. “Tenants in common” are not solely defined as those living on a property; they are all those who own a share in the property. The act would not require heirs living on a property to come to an agreement before it can be sold, but would instead provide several other protections.
Other than that, the article is just fine. But don’t say “fake news,” because that’s mean or something.
I guess the Post has decided to do fact-checking only after an article appears in print.